There’s‌ ‌no‌ ‌teaching‌ ‌standard‌ ‌that‌ ‌says‌ ‌you‌ ‌shouldn’t‌ ‌cry | Education Support
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There’s‌ ‌no‌ ‌teaching‌ ‌standard‌ ‌that‌ ‌says‌ ‌you‌ ‌shouldn’t‌ ‌cry

2nd December 2020

When‌ ‌you‌ ‌burnout‌ ‌there’s‌ ‌nowhere‌ ‌to‌ ‌go.‌ ‌When‌ ‌the‌ ‌tank‌ ‌is‌ ‌empty‌ ‌you‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌stop‌ ‌and‌ ‌refuel.‌ ‌What‌ ‌happens‌ ‌if‌ ‌half‌ ‌the‌ ‌profession‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌stop‌ ‌and‌ ‌refuel?‌ ‌Fearghal O'Nuallain reflects on the worrying results of our 2020 Teacher Wellbeing Index. 

There’s‌ ‌no‌ ‌teaching‌ ‌standard‌ ‌that‌ ‌says‌ ‌you‌ ‌shouldn’t‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌I‌ ‌checked.‌ ‌ ‌

I‌ ‌remember‌ ‌my‌ ‌first‌ ‌year‌ ‌teaching‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌London‌ ‌school.‌ ‌A‌ ‌fresh‌ ‌faced‌ ‌NQT‌ ‌over‌ ‌from‌ ‌Dublin.‌ ‌Excited‌ ‌by‌ ‌a‌ ‌new‌ ‌system‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌new‌ ‌career.‌ ‌ ‌

"You‌ ‌need‌ ‌to‌ ‌know‌ ‌those‌ ‌standards‌ ‌off‌ ‌by‌ ‌heart,‌ ‌I‌ ‌do",‌ ‌my‌ ‌mentor‌ ‌said.‌ ‌I‌ ‌printed‌ ‌them‌ ‌off‌ ‌and‌ ‌learned‌ ‌them‌ ‌by‌ ‌rote.‌ ‌A‌ ‌teacher‌ ‌must: set‌ ‌high‌ ‌expectations‌ ‌which‌ ‌inspire,‌ ‌motivate‌ ‌and‌ ‌challenge‌ ‌pupils”‌; “promote‌ ‌good‌ ‌progress‌ ‌and‌ ‌outcomes”; ‌“demonstrate‌ ‌good‌ ‌subject‌ ‌knowledge”; ‌“make‌ ‌accurate‌ ‌use‌ ‌of‌ ‌assessment”; ‌“manage‌ ‌behaviour‌ ‌effectively”; ‌“fulfil‌ ‌wider‌ ‌responsibilities”.

I‌ ‌can‌ ‌still‌ ‌remember‌ ‌them‌ ‌now‌ ‌as‌ ‌though‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌yesterday,‌ ‌‌not‌ ‌seven‌ ‌years‌ since I ‌was‌ ‌compiling‌ ‌my‌ ‌evidence‌ ‌for‌ ‌each‌ ‌one.‌ ‌ ‌

Standards‌ ‌are‌ ‌important. They’re‌ ‌something‌ ‌to‌ ‌measure‌ ‌ourselves‌ ‌against‌ ‌to‌ ‌help‌ ‌us‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌better.‌ ‌As‌ ‌a‌ ‌trainee‌ ‌I‌ ‌was‌ ‌taught‌ ‌that‌ ‌the‌ ‌teachers‌ ‌standards‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌benchmark‌ ‌we‌ ‌use‌ ‌to‌ ‌ensure‌ ‌the‌ ‌quality‌ ‌of‌ ‌our‌ ‌work.‌ ‌

So‌ ‌I‌ ‌double‌ ‌checked‌ ‌the‌ ‌teacher‌ ‌standards‌ ‌again‌ ‌when‌ ‌I‌ ‌read‌ ‌the‌ ‌findings‌ ‌of‌ ‌Education Support’s ‌‌Teacher‌ ‌Wellbeing‌ ‌Index‌ ‌2020‌.‌ ‌And‌ ‌no,‌ ‌there’s‌ ‌no‌ ‌standard‌ ‌that‌ ‌says‌ ‌you‌ ‌shouldn’t‌ ‌cry‌ ‌or‌ ‌sleep‌ ‌or‌ ‌concentrate.‌ ‌Yet‌ ‌these‌ ‌worrying‌ ‌signs‌ ‌of‌ ‌stress‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌teaching‌ ‌profession‌ ‌appear‌ ‌to‌ ‌becoming‌ ‌common.‌

In the last year of the education professionals surveyed:

  • 52%‌ ‌said‌ ‌they‌ ‌had‌ ‌suffered‌ ‌from‌ ‌insomnia
  • ‌41%‌ ‌experienced tearfulness
  • ‌40%‌ ‌had‌ ‌difficulty‌ ‌concentrating
  • ‌84%‌ ‌of‌ ‌teachers‌ ‌and‌ ‌89%‌ ‌of‌ ‌school‌ ‌leaders‌ ‌describe‌ ‌themselves‌ ‌as‌ ‌feeling‌ ‌‘stressed’‌ ‌or‌ ‌‘very‌ ‌stressed‌ ‌since‌ ‌September

‌These‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌signs‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌profession‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌ropes,‌ ‌a‌ ‌profession‌ ‌hurtling‌ ‌headlong‌ ‌towards‌ ‌a‌ ‌mass‌ ‌burnout. ‌It’s‌ ‌not‌ ‌surprising‌ ‌given‌ ‌the‌ ‌responsibilities‌ ‌the‌ ‌profession‌ ‌is‌ ‌shouldering‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌additional‌ ‌workload‌ ‌and‌ ‌uncertainty‌ ‌of‌ ‌teaching‌ ‌during‌ ‌COVID.‌ ‌

I‌ ‌remember‌ ‌sitting‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌GP‌ ‌survey‌ ‌in‌ ‌Peckham‌ ‌one‌ ‌January‌ ‌morning‌ ‌with‌ ‌those‌ ‌symptoms.‌ ‌My‌ ‌sleeping‌ ‌was‌ ‌erratic.‌ ‌I’d‌ ‌choke‌ ‌at‌ ‌a‌ ‌song‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌minor‌ ‌key‌ ‌and‌ ‌struggled‌ ‌to‌ ‌concentrate.‌ ‌When‌ ‌I‌ ‌said‌ ‌I‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌teacher‌ ‌he‌ ‌said‌ ‌that‌ ‌I‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌to‌ ‌sit‌ ‌in‌ ‌that‌ ‌chair.‌ ‌“We‌ ‌have‌ ‌quite‌ ‌a‌ ‌few‌ ‌presenting‌ ‌with‌ ‌your‌ ‌symptoms” she said.‌ ‌That‌ ‌was‌ ‌2016.‌ ‌I‌ ‌felt‌ ‌terrible‌ ‌taking‌ time off for stress, leaving ‌my‌ ‌students‌ ‌and‌ ‌knowing‌ ‌my‌ ‌colleagues‌ ‌were‌ ‌covering‌ ‌my‌ ‌classes‌ which ‌was‌ ‌adding‌ ‌to‌ ‌their‌ ‌workload.‌ ‌But‌ ‌I‌ ‌had‌ ‌no‌ ‌choice.‌ ‌

When‌ ‌you‌ ‌burnout‌ ‌there’s‌ ‌nowhere‌ ‌to‌ ‌go.‌ ‌When‌ ‌the‌ ‌tank‌ ‌is‌ ‌empty‌ ‌you‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌stop‌ ‌and‌ ‌refuel.‌ ‌What‌ ‌happens‌ ‌if‌ ‌half‌ ‌the‌ ‌profession‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌stop‌ ‌and‌ ‌refuel?‌ ‌Or‌ ‌stop‌ ‌altogether‌ ‌and‌ ‌do‌ ‌something‌ ‌else.‌ ‌ ‌

At‌ ‌this‌ ‌point‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌supposed‌ ‌to‌ ‌give‌ ‌some‌ ‌tips‌ ‌on‌ ‌what‌ ‌to‌ ‌do‌ ‌to‌ ‌mitigate‌ ‌stress‌ ‌and‌ ‌avoid‌ ‌burnout. For‌ ‌the‌ ‌individual‌ ‌teachers‌ ‌and‌ ‌leaders‌ ‌there‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌usual‌ ‌strategies‌ ‌of‌ ‌making‌ ‌sure‌ ‌that‌ ‌you‌ ‌switch‌ ‌off‌ ‌and‌ ‌protect‌ ‌your‌ ‌time,‌ ‌whenever‌ ‌that is feasible‌ ‌right‌ ‌now.

We also need to ‌remind‌ ‌ourselves‌ ‌regularly‌ ‌that‌ ‌this‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌crisis,‌ ‌a‌ ‌time‌ ‌for‌ ‌collegiality‌ ‌and‌ ‌trust‌ ‌in‌ ‌our‌ ‌profession‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌time‌ ‌to‌ ‌remember‌ ‌that‌ ‌your‌ ‌best‌ ‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌only‌ ‌standard‌ ‌that‌ ‌really‌ ‌matters.‌ ‌

Fearghal O'Nuallain is a geography teacher, author and explorer and tweets @Re_Ferg.

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