Elizabeth's story | Education Support

Elizabeth's story

Asking for help is a strength not a weakness

When Elizabeth, 56, a special needs teaching assistant in Staffordshire was at her wits’ end with her husband and daughter seriously ill and a challenging  workload at school she had no hesitation calling our helpline. We helped her manage her stress and find her own coping strategy.

One of the Education Support Partnership’s sayings is that you can’t drink from an empty cup. Well I found out how true that is. At around the same time my husband developed heart problems, more tumours were discovered in my adult daughter who had with a history of cervical cancer and even though they were benign she had to have a hysterectomy. And then on top of that I was asked to work with a young child who has autism. My experience and background is in working with older children who have autism. So I was really struggling.

However I’ve done a course in counselling and also mentoring so I had no hesitation in asking for help. I was at my wits’ ends and knew I needed to speak to someone about it. It’s a strength to recognise when you need help and then to ask for it. At first I just needed to get everything off my chest and then I needed a plan to cope. The Education Support Partnership helped me with both.

I’ve been working as a special needs teaching assistant for more than 20 years but decided I wanted a break from it. So I thought I’d go to uni as a mature student. I took a BA in philosophy as I thought that sounded interesting - which it was. I then got a scholarship to do an MA in it too. However the job situation was dire when I left college so I went back into education. I work planning, preparing and delivering lessons. I wish now I’d done a PGCE instead of a Masters!


What brought things to a head at work though was being asked to work with a young child with autism. My experience is with older children who have autism so this felt very alien to me and well outside my experience. I found it very difficult and with the stress over my husband and daughter’s health problems, it all got too much.

I found out about the helpline via a leaflet from my union the ATL, now NEU. At first I just needed to get it all off my chest. “Ring and get yourself sorted,” I thought. So I just did that in the first session. Then I was offered six sessions of telephone counselling. This was based on the Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) model which helps callers find solutions. My counsellor said, “They needed someone with experience who could work with a younger child with Autism. If you were the head looking for someone, who do you think you would’ve picked?” That made me see that it was a positive thing being asked to work with a younger child. If you’re the boss of course you’re going to try to find the best person you have for a job. That got my thinking back on track. And see this less as a negative. I was asked to work with this child because I have the skills and knowledge.

See things differently

As well as the counselling helping me to see the situation differently it helped me to change my attitude to things at work. I’m working ‘smarter’. My daughter is well on the mend now and my husband is a lot better. 

My school is now going to become a registered exam centre and when I was offered the job of Exams Officer I jumped at the chance. I will be learning new skills which suits my ‘be a life-long learning attitude’.

Ask for help. See it as a strength. The Education Support Partnership counsellors are not judgmental and you can tell them anything. It really helped me.

How we can help

  • Help for individuals  
    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, an Ofsted inspection, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That’s why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
  • Help for organisations 
    Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone’s wellbeing.