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Mental health problems

For students of all ages and levels, I think it is safe to say that there are times when the pressure seems to be feeling a bit more ramped up than usual.  With high-stakes exams and testing throughout, you have to consider the fact that some students react better to pressure than others.  Some students love the exams and all of the work that comes with it, others loath it and find it utterly unbearable.

Not surprising really, I think we’re all in favour of different methods of learning.  I didn’t mind spending hours on essays and assignments, others preferred the two hour high-pressure situation that came with exams.  Your efforts over several months come down to just a short space of time.

Of course, the pressure doesn’t stop at school level – the great student stress stereotype is well-known up and down the nation.  The theory that students do nothing is somewhat misguided – I do get to speak to a lot of stressed students who are trying to balance the demands of several modules all at the same time with varying expectations and standards for each.  It becomes quite a delicate balancing act.

Perhaps we have a habit of not considering the effects education has on the teachers themselves – what kind of damage can it have on teachers who have to actually teach this?

Well, recently it all came to light then research was published from a survey conducted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) about the mental well-being of teachers.  They spoke to a total of 925 members of staff to assess the level of concern around mental health among staff and what they felt some of the key side effects were.

The data presented in the findings does make for interesting – if uncomfortable – reading:

  • 38% of teachers surveyed said they had seen more instances in schools of teachers displaying symptoms of mental health issues whilst in the workplace.
  • 55% of teachers also said that their job was having a negative effect on their mental health.  Of those who said their work was impacting their health, the following symptoms were reported:
    Stress – 80%
    Exhaustion – 70%
    Sleep patterns changed – 66%
    Anxiety – 57%
    Headaches – 47%
    Nearly one in three people reported that the demands of the job affected their appetite.
  • Rather worryingly, the majority of teachers in this position decided to keep such issues from their bosses – 68% said they didn’t report such mental health issues.  Compare this to only 38% of those who chose not to disclose a physical injury and suddenly the unfortunate reality of people not wishing to talk about mental health issues crops up again.

This is, to say the least, very troubling.  Teachers are put under incredible amounts of pressure under the ‘exam factory’ theory of education.  Suddenly, it’s now a crafty mix of responsibility being dealt out at free will. If a child does worse than expected in exams, perhaps that’s going to point to a lack of planning or revision.  Of course, if the entire class struggles, do you look at the teacher?  Well, I guess you could argue that point and say ‘yes’, but I think you have to be reasonable about this: there’s simply no way that a teacher can win.

If they have a ‘top’ group of students for their class and they all live up to their expectations, well so what?  They just did what they were expected to do.  If one or a handful of students under-perform, the teacher might have questions to answer from the angry students or parents who have to find someone to blame over this.  After all, they should have done well here – the teaching must have been inconsistent.  And if the students all perform below-standard?  Well clearly something didn’t work in that class somewhere.

If the group is ‘average’, a mix of good and bad points to inconsistencies in teaching, failure to achieve as the group can be ‘blamed’ on a ‘bad’ teacher.

And of course, an ‘average’ or ‘low’ group which both perform better than expected leads to teachers being accused of setting low expectations to serve their own wishes… or to make themselves look good.

For the record, I do say that all with my tongue firmly ‘in-cheek’, since that’s definitely not how it should work.  However, you can see how the pressure of teaching can get to teachers.  Ofsted probably doesn’t help either – it gives Headteachers another excuse to keep the pressure on their teachers even more so then just exams.

Whilst this is all rather damning, I think it’s hardly a surprise.  Teachers are under a massive amount of pressure because of the cut-throat nature of the job – you can be the best teacher out there but if your students aren’t motivated to get the results you find yourself doing no better than the worst teacher out there with the best self-motivated group in the world.  Quite behind, in fact.

We can’t allow teachers to lose morale and start to suffer as a result from their teaching – I know it can be a stressful job but it’s clear from this latest research that it isn’t just the students who are really beginning to feel it.  I knew already that there are some less-than-pleasant parts of the job, but it shouldn’t be backed up with mental health problems.

So what do we do?  Well, I guess we could change the focus of schools to make sure we aren’t putting everyone under pressure all at the same time but I guess in a results-driven society our government might not see it that way.

Support needs to be available; teachers need to feel comfortable talking about such issues to other members of staff.  We have plans to help prevent and deal with bullying, so why not systems to help the ordinary teacher?  There are measures to make sure that whistle blowing remains anonymous, but surely something to actual protect staff well-being has to be found.  They do a very special job and we can’t seem to look after them properly.  Terrifying.

 

 

 

 

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