The Darkest Term Revisited: Teacher Stress and Depression Part 5December 18, 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
I’ve been in teaching for nearly 10 years now. As a Maths teacher I’ve seen sweeping changes in curriculum, standards, accountability and scrutiny (i.e. increased forms of the latter two). Becoming a head of department should have been a proud step up, finally having chance to shape my department and make a real difference in the way the subject is taught in my school.
8 years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, however one of the noticeable facets of my condition at the time that teaching was a release for me – I was good at it, I enjoyed it and I got great rewards from it. Basically, it held me together whilst the rest of my life was collapsing around me. It’s amazing that I look back at those times in my career with pride, because these days, all the love and life in my job has been sucked out.
I don’t shape my curriculum, it’s dictated by the government. I’m not allowed to be creative with my team or in lessons, because I have to deliver results – by teaching to the exam, in other words. I can’t continue with my policy of ‘happy people = great workers’ because one or two ‘requires improvement’ lessons from my staff are followed up by ‘support plans’ (informal capability) by SLT. My lessons – well planned, full of content and context – are destroyed because students demand entertainment rather than learning – a result of school policy that lessons should be ‘fun’. Oh and to top it off every other word spoken by SLT is OFSTED.
My integrity, authenticity and hope are questioned every day. It is no longer the world outside of my job that is the source of my depression, it IS my job that is the source. And after all of this, stress is a given. I’m fatter, balder and greyer than I’ve ever been.
Update: December 2014
I’m doing a lot better these days, I take up a new job in January, simply because I refused to continue putting up with the bullshit that was being thrown my way.
The final straw was after getting the 2014 GCSEs results back. We absolutely hammered the previous years results in my department, out-performed national across the board, but because we didn’t hit an arbitrary school target on progress we weren’t praised for our efforts.
So I started looking for a new job. When I got the job I’m starting in January, I was told I was being immoral for leaving the school in the lurch right in the middle of the year. Now, it wasn’t immoral when I only took a week’s paternity leave because I felt the pressure of having to deliver GCSE results, or when I was working 60+ hours a week keeping my department going due to two long term absences and a lack of help from slt.
I realised that much of the stress and depression I felt was down to my working environment and those who managed the school. It sounds daft, but there was simply no love. Anything extra done one year was taken to be the expectation the year after, without any thanks.
Outside of work I’m much better now, I’ve not had a down moment in many months and I’m more appreciative of the good things in my life, like family, friends and my personal achievements. I no longer look to validation of my efforts in my work because I won’t get it!
That last point sounds kind of sad, but it’s reality and I have to accept it. Wishing that you’re going to get a pat on the back in teaching these days might leave you disappointed.
Update: December 2015
I moved on from that ‘new’ job this year because I was not allowed to do the job I was employed for. Basically they didn’t know what to do with me, and the role they’d created, so I was left to fester. I wasn’t having that, so I applied elsewhere and I’m now in a job I like. The hours are still demanding and the ‘black dog’ quite often bites but the difference is that I’m in a school that a) appreciates my skills and b) provides the structures in order for me to succeed.
It’s really not hard to keep staff happy. Allow them the autonomy they deserve as professionals, be there when times are tough and pull them into line if, and only if, they clearly didn’t do the best they could in the circumstances.
I love teaching, it’s bloody hard but it’s rewarding when it pays off. But every time a barrier is thrown up, or your credibility is unfairly judged, doubt creeps in. The coalface of teaching needs care and attention by the administrators, not further directives and prescription.
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.