Meet Tassa | Education Support
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Meet Tassa

"My name is Tassa and I am a teacher. I’ve never written a letter like this before, to people I don’t know, but I want to share my story, because I want to help others like me. I'm going to tell you how teaching led me to therapy..."

A lot of teachers are suffering, but feel they need to hide what they’re going through - and the more you hide it, the more it affects your health. Teachers are very reluctant to seek help because it admits there’s a problem and often the problem is too big for them to solve. Don’t I know it, it’s taken me years.

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It was at some point in my second or third year of teaching when a senior colleague pointed out that, I was ‘running myself into the ground’. At the time, I didn’t really know what she meant. My blank face probably told her I was still far away from seeing the light. As far as I could tell, I was simply trying to keep up with the volume of work expected of me. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Three years later, I now find myself saying the exact phrase to other teachers.

I see their bloodshot eyes with the tired skin below. I hear stories of them getting ‘the shakes’, working ‘til midnight and for whole days at the weekend.

I try to tell them to stop before they burn out, but I know the words are meaningless. The only people who understand me are the ones who have been there and survived. It seems that the first step on the path of teaching is that you must indulge in the belief that the impossible is achievable. When you finally realise that it isn’t achievable but still expected of you, that’s when cracks appear and your world begins to crumble.

Looking back, I can see how my path of destruction was inevitable. I really wanted to do my job well and tried to excel in every area of teaching (and believe me, there are many areas). From planning and marking to resource-making to classroom and behaviour management, many different skills are called upon. I wanted to do well and, I suppose, internally wanted to receive praise for my efforts. Little did I expect that trying my absolute hardest and working all the hours in the world would not be enough. 

I considered the teachers at my school to be good. They worked really hard. There was often a group of us being ushered out the door at 6:30 by the caretaker. As the school was teetering on the edge of ‘special measures’ due to poor results, advisors and advanced teachers were called in to ‘help’ us. One of them told us we were “failing the children”. After 10-hour days plus weekends, I am quite sure no one realised the impact that sort of comment would have on the teachers.

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The problem with stress is that it’s sneaky. It doesn’t just snap at you one day and tell you to slow down – although I’m sure that wouldn’t work either. What it does is slowly undermine your immune system so you become vulnerable to infections.

Then you start to come down with all sorts of random ailments that you can’t explain. They can be anything from an allergic reaction to insomnia and they are signs that you are internalising your stress. After a year of dismissing numerous physical manifestations, I ended up having full-blown anxiety attacks at work and found myself hiding in the school office waiting for my teaching assistant to bring my bag and coat from the classroom so I could leave. Flooded with tears, I would sit on the bus, terrified that one of my student’s parents might see me. 

During that last year or so, other aspects of my life had changed. I had stopped going out on the weekends, stopped doing anything remotely pleasurable because I couldn’t justify not working when there was so much work to be done. Withdrawing from sociable/pleasurable activities is another sign that a worklife balance is far from reach. The problem is that there truly aren’t enough hours to get a class teacher’s work done. It just isn’t possible and pretending that it is, is just plain cruel. 

Being signed off sick from work is no solution. You simply sit at home thinking about how pathetic you are for not being able to do your job. Then when you return, the problems are still there. Finally, I went to the GP for help. I could barely speak through my tears and with a little persistence, I managed to get 10 sessions with a  psychologist and a year’s worth of anti-depressants which helped me reach the end of the school year when I  could allow myself to quit my job. If only I’d known about the Teacher Support Network, I could have sought help before things got so bad. 

Two years later (and two jobs later) I find myself trying to escape teaching again. A couple of bouts of insomnia has reminded me what may lie ahead.

future is bright

The day I got in touch with TSN, (now Ed Support) I had taken two days off sick. I had a cold, had not slept for 2 nights due to anxiety and felt dreadful. I felt like it was all getting on top of me again so I decided to look up the online counselling service on live chat. I just clicked on the link and a counsellor started chatting with me. As soon as I began to describe my work environment and some of the pressures, he seemed to understand completely, like he had heard it all before. That in itself was a relief. Sometimes it helps just for someone to acknowledge that what you’re dealing with isn’t pleasant. It makes you realise that actually what you’re going through is kind of tough and that in expecting to have dealt with it better, you’re already being too hard on yourself.

Talking to the online counsellor also helped me to step back from teaching and look at it as a job rather than my whole world. It allowed me to think that struggling with it was OK because someone out there understood what I was going through. Teaching is so much work that its easy to get lost in it. The counsellor helped me to remember that there is a world outside of teaching and that it would be OK if I needed to leave. 

Thinking ‘it’s just a job’ and knowing that someone on the outside understands, gives you a bit more strength. It allowed me to think ‘I’m going to go in, I’m going to do my best and I’m going to come out and I’m not going to be less of a person because of the way the work goes.’ It made me feel a bit more OK with struggling.

I’ve come to the conclusion that teaching isn’t for me. Whether it’s the job itself, or the stress it entails, I’m not sure. What I am sure of though, is that there are a LOT of teachers out there working really hard, receiving no praise and suffering a poor work-life balance. It would be harsh to simply walk away towards something better.  Something inside me grieves for them and is compelled to spread the word. 

It may be too late for me, but it will help the hundreds of teachers out there who are hiding their stress to know that there is support. I’m hoping this letter will help my colleagues who are suffering to reach out and use the support this charity provides. 

Thank you so much for reading my letter. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that people give to a charity that cares about teachers’ wellbeing. Thank you.