The Darkest Term Revisited: Teacher Stress and Depression Part 4December 17, 2015
The most viewed post on this blog is one from two years ago entitled The Darkest Term: Teacher Stress and Depression in which teachers shared their stories of stress and depression. Last year I contacted some of those people to see how they were getting on, although I never got round to publishing their responses. I’ve also contacted them again this week. This post contains one of the accounts from the original post and any updates.
Original Account: December 2013
It started with an assault. It was quite a bad one, bruising and feeling rather shaken. The pupil had a history of aggressive behaviour and the rest. I reported it, as well as to the police. That was the start. The whole SMT machinery turned on me. I was given a dressing down and from that point on it all started to go wrong. I had been teaching for over 7 years, I think. No NQT, I was an ex-serviceman, confident and assertive. From the day the SMT betrayed my trust all of that evaporated. I became withdrawn and apathetic. I removed all the personal touches in my room.
More assaults followed. Once pupils sense you have been “breached” they home in. A pupil grabbed my wrist to prevent me from closing down a PC in an IT lesson. I raised my voice and the response was instant: “You shouldn’t have touched me!” she screamed. I knew I would get no back up from SMT. I was right. I reported it and had to fight to get the pupil removed. The poor behaviour which was the usual in the school became utterly unmanageable. The Headteacher had stated in no uncertain terms that I should seek employment elsewhere. There was no backup, the ambitious year 11 Head of Year eager to avoid exclusions to feather his own nest. I fell further, becoming more and more stressed. More issues followed, culminating in a hostile observation which triggered my visit to the doctors (on the advice of an assistant headteacher). From the start of the new September year I felt like I was living in a glass box. I was unable to interact with my young children. I would just sit on the sofa, usually covered in a blanket. I was so cold. In the mornings I was sick, I used to cycle into school, or run. That stopped. I drove to work and as soon as I could I left. Ironically I still had an excellent attendance record. My results were still very high (over 90%). I was dead on the inside.
A few days after the hostile observation, after the headteacher personally giving me feedback but just before the follow up observation I arranged to clear my reputation, I went to doctors. I broke down and cried. I cried, I sobbed, I felt ashamed and weak. I felt defeated, used and betrayed. It felt like the end.
I wasn’t. The Local Authority went through the motions. Their occupational therapist found that I was not depressed; my doctor disagreed. I was diagnosed with workplace stress. I never returned to secondary teaching. Over a year on I am now retraining into a better career – the law. I feel much better, more relaxed, happier, freer.
I still harbour immense resentment for those that call themselves “SMT”. They ignored all the warning signs that were evident as to my condition. They chose to punish rather than support. I am sure I am not alone in finding this.
My advice to those thinking of teaching – don’t. It’s not worth your sanity. If you thought I was alone in the school I was not. I was the third staff member in less than 3 years to leave through stress. A head of department for one of the core subjects was even keeping a log of workload, instructions from SMT and such to cover themselves if they were “strung out”. Not a nice career, not nice people. I fear for my children’s future with such unfeeling careerist monsters in charge of schools.
Update December 2014
There are two versions of what happened next. The other one is slightly more bombastic than this version. I hope this is a more considered and less vitriolic. I assume my hand typed the first as some form of catharsis.
January/February is still a dark time for me. The low feelings still reach out from the past, they whisper dark thoughts to me, suggest that I was weak, that I am useless and just couldn’t cope. What happened after I left didn’t help. My medical status was shared by my headteacher to other heads in the area, and the local MP. The latter was sent up by the heads to try, successfully, to blacken my name with the DfE. This knocked me back again a year after I crashed out of teaching. Talk about a sickening profession of weak leaders and scheming departments. The whole lot could be cast off into the ocean and there would be no tears from me.
Ah, you see, there it is again – the bombast and vitriol. My need for redress can be all consuming you see. I am not one to forgive. This one is a keeper. I suspect I will carry the events that lead up to the end of my career to the end of my days. I will not forgive, or forget. I have a wife and family and their well-being are my sole focus, but still the delightful thoughts of how best to tar the names of those who did me wrong entertain me during the interludes in my daily routines.
An experience as mine results in changes to a person. Changes in your character are the most noticeable. I am quicker to judge, condemn those in the wrong quicker, and I have no second thoughts on harshly judging those in power who fail. I suffered at the hands of those in power for their failings, and thus those in power must suffer harsher judgement – after all that is what the extra pay is in exchange for. I have developed a harder edge. There is no one else who will look after your interest other than you. I can sum it up thus; I trust less those who are not close friends or immediate family. You have to look after your own, and putting time and effort into projects for the “common good” are a waste of time, unless I’m going to get paid for it.
The shame of crashing out of a profession, the loss of control and the fact you were “bullied” out of a job still hurts too. Until I earn money again I cannot hold my head up high. We, the family, rely on my wife’s income. I am not providing for my children and reliant on the very generous assistance from my parents. For a proud man this is a continuing injury. It is, when I think about it, a frequent slap in the face. I am retraining, and only a few months left, but it still rankles me. It is one more thing to be ashamed of. I have feel I have failed my wife, children and parents. This is the wasteland that injurious stress creates. For any “senior leadership” brave enough to read this remember that. Behind each “sign off” is a wasteland of emotional carnage that you are responsible for. I hold you and your SMT/SLT ilk in nothing but contempt.
So no, it appears I am not healed. Off the tablets – yes for the past 2 years; better – most certainly; healed – no. I have been scarred by this hideous experience. I will take those scars to my grave. I can only hope I will attain a position to wreak similar injury on those who injured me. To know they have suffered a similar experience would lighten my suffering. I live in hope. Who knows I may even actively seek such positions out. Who can say?
Update December 2015
After the long bitter night, dawn breaks. Well folks I am almost completely better. A did omit a few sections to my previous polemic. I did have a rather pleasant exit from teaching. It was the summer of 2013. I spent two terms teaching in Primary school; a single form entry village school far from my home. It was ace. I was supply and the headteacher was a new chap. He was supportive, helpful and funny. Apparently he was rather different to the previous incumbent, a divisive lady by all accounts. Those two terms helped me to come out of the mood within which I had become mired. I came off the happy tablets which was a dislocating, liberating and emotional ride. The mixed year group I taught was great fun. We did evolution, a field trip (3 mile walk in the summer sun beside a lazy river), historical visit where I could dress up, spellings, times tables (by rote, all read out as a class – you all know the tempo). At the end of term I was sorry to go. The children were great, the parents supportive and kind (and generous – oh my the booty I got on the last day!), so I left on a high. This helped I am sure, but I was far from healed.
After that I retrained into the Law. It was a tough course, and the more I learned the angrier I got. The injustice at how the SMT had ridden roughshod over my rights and ignored their duties. I was outraged at the ineffectiveness of the union, at the sheep-like manner in which staff comply and bumble along hoping they won’t be next. I became sullen that I could not afford to take action and at the compromise agreement I signed. I verbally lashed out at family, nothing permanently damaging, but enough to look back and feel ashamed. My mood would rise up and crash down. I was still not a fully functioning father to my children, or a husband to my wife. I was not earning, costing the family so much money to retrain and my time almost totally consumed by study. I wondered when it would end. Then I passed the first sat of exams. My mood lightened as I felt I was able to do something else – I could complete this course, that I could change career! My family was happy with my results, I was relieved and happy that I could cope with pressure and stress still and the dark thoughts, the need for hot revenge, receded.
Over that summer of 2014, I became more like my old self. The next year went by so quickly. My results went up as I got into my stride. I completed my course with a good grade (doubly happy with that considering I had a 4 hour commute a day and a family to see). I got a training contract and now have a 9 minute train commute and brisk walk to the office. There is stress, but it is productive stress. It is not destructive, inhibiting stress imposed by moronic SMT or children of an ill temperament. I feel happy, grateful at this second chance. I still tear up far more easily than I used to (Inside Out – cried at the short film in the beginning, let alone the main feature!) and I am now aware of those who exhibit the same symptoms as I did. Yet the events of 2010 to 2012 all seems but a hazy memory. Good job I wrote it all down as a legal statement in 2013. Now I have committed it all to paper I seem to have let go of the memories.
Has this slaked my thirst for revenge? Not one bit. I do not think of it as often, but it is there. Anyone who is a victim of the meat grinder that is SMT send out a few Subject Access Requests (look them up) and see what comes in. The things I have come across! I started sending out letters asserting the wrongs I discovered and seeking redress. The last letter I received was a response from the County Council. They were replying on behalf of the headteacher who ground me up. I hand delivered a personal letter to him – which was another personal demon faced down. He did not seem pleased to see me which, and that was a nice feeling. The County now think they might be liable for some the actions of that individual. Odd as they denied liability for everything a few letters ago – it is amazing what can be found out, and how once you know, the other side become more circumspect and lessen their flat denials. So I grind onwards to seeking redress, hoping to reveal those who ruined so many teachers. If Old Andrew is interested in publishing it I would be happy to write up my full tale of woe, litigation pending.
In Summary – Do not take it lying down – when all the fight has left you that is the time to dig in. Make a diary, go see a doctor for their diagnosis (THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT and PRUDENT). If you are visibly stressed you are likely to have been marked for ‘replacement’. They got you into the mess, you need a settlement to see you through, so extract all you can! If the costs of dealing with broken teachers mount up maybe, just maybe, someone will press for change. Get on their case. They must protect you, they have obligations, they are not all powerful and They Do Not Hold All The Cards.
Also get a lawyer, that will really get their attention.
If anyone reading this is experiencing stress and depression themselves, you should be aware of the Teacher Support Network which runs a hotline and offers practical advice. If it is your working conditions that are making you ill, or if you want help with ensuring that you are supported at work having being diagnosed with stress or depression, I would recommend contacting your union.