A day in the life of a helpline counsellor | Education Support
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A day in the life of a helpline counsellor

13th December 2016

My name is Anna*, and I’ve been a helpline counsellor at Education Support Partnership for over four years*. As we gear up for a busy January, I wanted to tell you more about the help we provide to the education staff who contact us in distress on a daily basis.

We receive 7,500 calls per year from people all across the sector but there are some very clear types of calls.

Newly qualified teachers

We get a large number of calls from NQTs. They have done the training and started in the job but are having a complete panic because the job is nothing like the training.

They are often feeling unsupported and that an inappropriate level of responsibility is being given to them before they’ve really got time to learn their craft and become robust in their profession. Sometimes they call saying that they feel that they have made the worst decision of their life.

Others have perhaps trained in a completely different career and have come in and had their confidence shattered because they’re starting all over again and they have different pressures and responsibilities. 

Experienced teachers

We get a lot of calls from very experienced teachers who are coming to the end of their professional life and moving towards retirement. Often they feel that they are being pushed aside in favour of younger and cheaper colleagues.

Possibly a new head has come in, or a new process has come in in terms of how they’re being assessed and suddenly what they’ve been doing for the last x number of years which has been considered fine is no longer OK.

These teachers feel devalued which massively reduces their confidence.

Retired teachers

Those who have retired from the education sector often feel a loss of status and reduction in social contact as they are no longer part of a large school community.

These retired teachers call us experiencing loneliness and isolation.

State of crisis, panic and high distress

When people phone us they’re in a state of crisis, panic, high distress.

I’ve had people phoning in before the start of class having a panic attack. I’ve had teachers phoning in being physically ill because they’re so distressed. When people call it’s almost like a last chance.

They’re feeling absolutely desperate and things have been building up for quite some time.

Common personality traits

My observation from speaking to the teachers that call us is that there are often identifiable personality traits:

  1. Perfectionism
  2. Very strong work ethic
  3. Great deal of loyalty to the children and their colleagues
  4. Very very hard working

These are great qualities but can really work against you if you’re working in a system where perhaps you’re trying to manage the un-manageable.

When people in other professions get to the point of feeling so unwell physically and mentally due to prolonged stress, they go to the doctor and take their advice about taking a break from work.  

However, it is striking that we find that teachers, who may have had that conversation with their doctor, continue to work as they are so dedicated to their students and colleagues.

How we help

When someone calls we talk to them for up to 60 minutes to bring them out of the state of crisis.

It can take this crisis situation for a breakthrough moment to happen, where a person can stop and say something has got to give here. Then individuals can be receptive to hearing that actually maybe they do need to take some time out, to really take care of themselves, but it’s a very tough decision. There’s a huge amount of guilt and feelings of failure.

It is sad to think that so much distress is being experienced by the education staff working with our children. However, it is fantastic that Education Support Partnership can offer this lifeline to them when they need it and allow them to be heard and not judged. I just wished more people called us before they get to crisis point so that we could prevent the situation escalating.

So remember our free and confidential helpline is here 24/7 throughout the UK on 08000 562561 for all education staff.

* Anna’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.