You don’t have to search for too long on Google to find people writing about teacher stress. Recently there’s been an outpouring of media articles on the subject – and it shows no sign of decreasing.
It’s the start of the Easter holidays, and all those who believe this is a time when teachers completely recharge their batteries by taking time to relax ought to think again. Whilst the daily pressures of being responsible for thirty young people are temporarily lifted, the stress of the job doesn’t stop as soon as the children walk out of the building, and neither does the work.
The outcomes of the NUT autumn questionnaire on teacher workload were well-reported but let’s just remind ourselves of the truly shocking statistics within that report:
96% of teachers said that workload had a negative effect on their family life and relationships.
90% of teachers said that they’d considered leaving the profession during the last two years.
Admittedly, many workers in every field and profession would say exhaustion from work affects their family life, but this percentage of unhappiness is disproportionate by comparison. Many others say they don’t attain or maintain a work-life balance but they don’t necessarily want to leave their jobs in droves.
Nicky Morgan and the Department for Education have said that they’re concerned about this and are trying to look at ways to reduce workload and bureaucracy. However, they’re in danger of putting sticky tape over the cracks rather than taking the necessary measures to truly alleviate the problem.
Last week two more articles exemplified the current problems of teacher stress, reporting on another survey ahead of the annual teacher conferences:
The NASUWT survey of 3,500 members shows similar statistics to the NUT survey of six months ago:
- 83% reported work-related stress
- 67% said their job had adversely impacted on their health
- 89% said workload was a major concern – (compared with 44% citing inspections as a major problem)
- 7% increase in people saying they are seriously considering leaving the profession (now 76% from 69% in 2014)
- Stress accounts for more than double the figures of days taken off for physical sickness.
This doesn’t look good.
What’s more, it doesn’t look like it’s going to improve.
This isn’t just a problem for teachers working in our inner city schools. It’s all teachers who are affected by these intolerable levels of stress when the treadmill of preparing for tests and examinations is ever-present – with no proper pause for an Easter break.
Here’s a post on the Telegraph’s website from “Boarding School Beak”:
“[Last term] seems to have been particularly brutal in its demands: not just for teachers, for all those hapless teenagers preparing hard for the exams ahead.
For most of the time, this past term has felt like a treadmill. A ceaselessly-revolving treadmill of exam practice papers, reports, coursework, marking, meetings about marking, more exam practice papers, more reports. It became so bad at one stage, I lay awake at night, worrying about meeting the many “unmissable” deadlines.”
And what of the younger or less experienced teachers? How are they coping with the stress of the job?
Last week’s “Secret Teacher” in the Guardian expressed significant concerns for the NQTs:
“If you have a quick scan through the cover list at my school you will note a repeating pattern: the newly qualified teachers (NQTs) are ill. They’re ill a lot. We old warhorses have come into contact with every germ, virus and bacteria that the biological soup that is our student body can propagate, and our immune systems are made of stern stuff.”
Who’d choose to enter a profession that makes you so ill?
‘Secret Teacher’ this week is concerned about her levels of alcohol consumption:
“I’m not saying I’m an alcoholic, but when you’re getting back from work and the first thing you do is pour yourself a large glass of Pinot Noir, then comfortably polish off the bottle before you’ve finished dinner, you know things have maybe gone too far.”
This behaviour is confirmed in the NASUWT survey which says there’s a 25% increase in the use of caffeine, alcohol and/or tobacco.
Add to this yet another shocking report about the state of our children’s mental health and one has to come to the conclusion that our schools are not emotionally well places to be.
Another union, the ATL, is stating its concern about vulnerable young people in our schools and the need for more mental health funding – something that we’ve sadly reported on for too long:
We’re not implying that the levels of teacher stress are causal factors in the alarming increase in the mental health problems of our young people. There are evidently a multitude of factors responsible for this rise. However, if a child does have significant mental health problems, then a stressed teacher is less likely to be able to help (or even identify) a child in need as readily as a well teacher.
The wellbeing of our teachers and our young people go hand in hand. Our children deserve to be taught by people who are well mentally, emotionally and physically, which is why the focus on teacher wellbeing is so important.
The Guardian has published two articles on identifying stress which offer some advice to those who are suffering:
Good advice indeed.
However, we really do need to rethink our attitudes to stress and consider holistically how we look at the wellbeing of everyone in our schools.
This is why we have consistently written about wellbeing and campaigned for wellbeing to be taken seriously – for the sake of all.
We refer you to a post we wrote back in 2013, suggesting that there ought to be a campaign for wellbeing:
Isn’t it time right now? We can’t afford to wait.
Happy Easter everyone. And please spare a thought for the many dedicated teachers who will still be hard at work in school, at home, or working for the future of our children at the teacher union conferences around the country.
We sincerely hope that every teacher will take some time to reflect, relax and enjoy some peace and quiet over the break.
— Abbie Saxby (@Abbie_Saxby) March 30, 2015
— Tristram Hunt (@TristramHuntMP) March 30, 2015