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Mental Health and Teaching

Think back to your last sick day. Was it due to stress? Miranda discusses the current mental health state of teachers and how you can help yourself out. 

You don’t have to be mad to work here but…

68% of us will not be telling our boss if we come anywhere close to a state of mental ill-health and distress. According to this year’s report by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, over a third of school and college staff  have noticed more mental ill health and stress amongst their colleagues this year. So as a profession, we are ailing but we simply can’t afford to let the boss know – fear of stigma or a dread of being seen to be too weak to keep clinging to the chalk face?

Over the past two years, I have covered day-to-day supply for a myriad of different reasons, but mostly I am in work because other teachers are at home ill. 

Often you are encouraged to read between the lines: ‘well put it this way, it’s her third throat infection this term…She has four un-statemented children with SEN, she’s lost her TA and the sensory room’s been  knocked through to make space for the new intake.’ Sometimes you will hear it straight: ‘Burned out. In bed.’ Mostly, it appears that minor physical ailments and mental health issues come in one package that is almost impossible to untangle, they simply go together like Strepsils and playground duty, like Lemsip and December.  

Being a supply teacher, of course, has its own unique mental stresses. You may not be attached to one classroom and one class or one boss who is grinding you down. But it’s pretty easy to become unhappy and anxious without quite realising it. Every day you are in charge of a sea of new faces, negotiating new systems and routines, picking you way through new buildings and having your break with people who you don’t know. This is challenging, and can begin to wear you down. I’m not saying that I have the answers, but I am aware that I need to make positive mental health part of my everyday approach to supply work.

So here’s a few tips:

  • Give yourself a pat on the back. You know if your lesson went well and so do the children you are teaching. Pause and feel pleased.
  • Manage the bad days. Think about how you could have done things better for a few minutes, make a mental or physical note of it, then shrug it off. Your ability does not depend on one class and one room.
  • Realise that you don’t and won’t have the full picture. If you are told a class is ‘bouncy’ it usually means that are up the wall (and round the corner). Ditto the news that there are ‘a few characters’ in the class. You will probably never know the children’s background, their teachers’ approach or the support that’s normally in place for them. You are doing the best you can without the information you probably need.
  • Keep liking the children. It’s easy, when you have a tough class, to feel the odd surge of dislike rising to the surface. Try to peer through the smoke of the group dynamic to see clear individuals, striving to breathe from within it. 
  • Do other stuff. Come home, moan and move on. Make nice food, have fun, write, watch box sets, do yoga, date, play with your kids, eat mince pies. Balanced people make better teachers, don’t you think?

What are your best tips for managing stress? Or do you have a view on how schools can support their teachers? Email Megan (mparsons@protocol-education.com) to discuss how we can share you ideas. 


Tags: Miranda, Manchester, NQT, supply

Category: Australian Teachers


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