Stress at school – coping and transforming

Happy new year! It’s the first week back, we’re in the depths of winter and you may or may not feel refreshed and revived after the recent festivities. We all know the profession is struggling. Funding, recruitment, retention, accountability, workload… the demands from all angles are seemingly incessant. It’s probably fair to say that no school is immune. The negative impact of excessive stress is being felt across the country.

According to research commissioned by the Education Support Partnership, and published in September 2017, an overwhelming majority of the UK’s education professionals say they have suffered “physical and mental health issues as a result of their jobs”. Further, three quarters of 1,250 school and college staff and leaders surveyed said that they had experienced “psychological, physical or behavioural symptoms because of work”. School staff, it seems, have lost the capacity to create balance in their lives, such is workload and associated stress.

So is it possible to be a teacher and live a life that’s healthy, balanced and rewarding?

Surely that’s what all developed societies would want for the people who help shape our young? Sadly, that’s not what all teachers experience, and if you are starting the year feeling, or fearing, negative stress, these ideas for “at work” resolutions may help:

– Aim to become proficient at recognising when you are approaching your limit, emotionally or physically. A myth prevails that we cannot express when we are nearing “enough” for fear of appearing weak or unable to do the job. This is nonsense and serves no-one. Effective leaders would far rather adjust workload as necessary than lose staff to burnout. Wouldn’t they? Regardless, speak up sooner rather than later.
– If you feel you are working in a toxic environment and that speaking up is futile, it’s time for some tough questions. Is that workplace serving you well? Or is it time for an exit strategy? We’re not all suited to every teaching post. Sometimes we have to move on. Or at least, make plans to, which in itself can help to alleviate some of the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that excessive stress can leave us with.
– Monitor the way you feel about your workload every week. What do your reflections tell you over time?
– Reach out for support. Possible sources include trusted colleagues at work, people you know in the profession in other schools, your union, your GP, the Education Support Partnership, as well as family and friends. Never suffer in silence. There is support out there that can help us to see the issues we are facing with greater clarity.
– There is much talk of what stresses teachers, and this can only be a good thing, but what helps? What gets you through the times when you feel close to overwhelmed? Would it be possible to start a dialogue in your school about what helps rather than hinders?

Most of all, we have to be able to articulate our needs at work. When workload runs beyond what’s achievable and safe for our mental and physical health we have to be able to raise concerns fearlessly. We cannot afford, as a nation or as teaching professionals, not to heed the warning signs our bodies give us. Saying “no” could save your life. It’s that simple.

Find out more…

The Education Support Partnership website carries extensive advice, information and guidance on teacher wellbeing. You can call them 24/7 on 08000 562 561


Author: Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth holmes photo

After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.

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