Rachel's story | Education Support

Rachel's story

How we helped Rachel cope with violence and disruption in the classroom.

After she was moved onto Universal Credit, cover supervisor Rachel (not her real name), was forced to move schools due to a significant drop in her benefits. “I had to leave a job I loved to work in a school that offered more hours and more money,” says Rachel, a single parent with a son aged 12 and who has autism.

Dangerous behaviour

“In my new school I experienced extreme disruptive and dangerous behaviour when trying to manage classes and ensure students stayed on task. I spoke repeatedly to HR but nothing was done about it even though I was told these issues had been raised on a number of previous occasions.

“In almost every lesson I had to deal with extreme defiance. I had objects such as a wooden doorstop and textbooks thrown at me, was repeatedly insulted to my face, was shoulder barged and targeted by a group of Year Eight boys in what felt like systematic bullying.”

Lifeline

In despair, Rachel rang our helpline on a number of occasions. “The Education Support Partnership was a lifeline. The counsellors gave me some strategies to deal with the stress. They did this by first of all explaining how the mind works and how you can use that to cope with severe stress.

“For example, when I’d been in a very traumatic lesson I was told when on my break to think of a positive word that I liked, such as sunflower, and to keep saying it over and over. Apparently your brain can only process one thing at a time so if you say a positive word like sunflower your brain brings up a picture in your mind of a sunflower.

“So I’d come out of lessons feeling unbelievably stressed and go and sit in my car at lunchtime and do these exercises the counsellors had talked me through. It was like having one of them with me. It was very comforting at an incredibly difficult time. I’m so grateful to Ed Support for that.”

Stress toolbox

“The counsellors have tools in their toolbox they can give you to help you to cope with the really intense stress of standing in front of 35 15-year-olds and not being able to get any control because they’ve decided not to give you any.

“If you can’t change the situation you can try to change how you deal with it, calm yourself down with deep breathing and similar techniques. All that cortisol coursing through your blood is not doing you any good. Knowledge about this does help though and it means you can try to preserve your wellbeing if you’re not receiving the safeguarding you should.

“By calling the Ed Support helpline I took some vital steps to preserve my mental health instead of being destroyed by it.”

Still hasn’t recovered

Rachel decided she couldn’t stay at the school. “As a result of what I experienced at that school I decided not to do a PGCE and join the teaching profession, which had been my intention. I hoped that job would offer me more class-facing experience before I began my PGCE. However I still haven’t recovered from what I suffered in that school and will never work in a school again. I just won’t risk receiving similar treatment.”

Rachel is now studying for an MA in creative writing, something she’s always wanted to do, while she considers her next move. “I really do recommend the helpline for anyone who’s in a similar situation, or any stressful situation in a school. Having someone I could not just talk to but who gave me coping strategies really made a massive difference.”

Violence in schools

Rachel is far from alone in what she experienced. In this year’s Teacher Wellbeing Index out of the 4 in 10 teachers who reported feeling threatened at work 58% cited harassment or intimidation as the most common type of threat, with 38% reporting physical harm or injury. This aligns to a noticeable increase in calls relating to violence through our emotional support helpline over the past year. 

Sinéad Mc Brearty, CEO of Education Support Partnership, commented: “It’s a concerning trend that needs addressing, particularly as we know there exists a strong link between being a victim of violence and a range of psychological, physical or behavioural symptoms, which can lead to more severe mental health issues. The pressure of just working in an environment where the threat of violence exists can lead on its own to increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression.”

Call us

Our experienced counsellors are used to taking calls about violence and disruption in the classroom. We’re here to help so if you or a colleague faces similar issues please don’t hesitate to call our free and confidential helpline on 08000 562561