Teacher Mental Health: Reactive, not Proactive

While a greater focus and need for mental health provisions has obviously become increasingly prominent in recent years, we ask whether or not steps could be made to make mental health provisions for teachers, especially NQTs having a rough time, proactive as opposed to reactive.

Am I the problem?

I had a rough time of it as a teacher: anxiety, stress, depression. I’d never experienced any of these things prior and my first instinct was to entirely blame myself. I can’t hack this, everyone else has themselves together.

During my NQT year, I had some very difficult classes and a wonderful TA who could see the turmoil I was going through as the year progressed. I asked other teachers if they were having the same problem: a resounding yes was the answer but nothing was being done. The school had a very strict view on teaching methods (lessons must include group work), a restrictive take on seating arrangements (students must sit on grouped islands) and a near-constant insistence that behaviour wasn’t an issue.

In my despair, I asked for whatever assistance I could get dealing with the troublesome classes and in a sit-down chat with a member of SLT, I was told I was more than welcome to attend one of their classes to see how behaviour management, group work and seating arrangements were supposed to be done.

The problem? He worked on a reduced teaching timetable, students afforded him the fear/respect factor that SLT brings, taught the lovely classes and managed to avoid the difficult classes entirely.

Things just got worse.

I continued to struggle with the classes, lacked the support I desperately needed and I was off work with anxiety and stress before the year was out. Of course, on my return, the usual ‘return to work’ occurrences took place: a back to work interview, a referral to occupational health and adjustments are made to my timetable to accommodate.

To my absolute horror: I’d lost the incredible classes that I was thriving with and somehow had managed to keep the classes I was struggling with.

Lacking a full-time teacher in my absence, the difficult classes had lost yet more structure and had simply gotten worse. Returning to the difficult classrooms filled me with dread. It didn’t take long before I was off once more, and with finality. I left the school before the NQT year was out and I simply kept telling me I only had myself to blame. After all, I couldn’t cope.

Too little too late.

It’s taken a few years of retrospective thinking to realise that I was perhaps offered the bare minimum where my mental health was concerned in my NQT year and no real, meaningful changes were made to welcome me back into the classroom. I went on to finish my NQT year elsewhere, in a much more challenging school no-less… but the support I was offered meant that I thrived in the environment and learnt how to cope with challenging students. Everyone understood circumstances and worked together to overcome them.

I thrived with support from SLT making their presence known to the trouble-makers, a HOD who took my concerns about behavioural problems seriously and supportive teachers who could spot the signs of strain and simply ask if everything was OK before it was too late. How many young teachers leave the profession asking themselves: Am I the problem?

The bottom line is: your employer has a duty of care to ensure that your mental health needs are taken care of. It’s simply not enough to say ‘everyone else is coping’ because, as an individual, you are not everyone else. You are you and you are definitely not the problem.

If you are feeling signs of strain, burnout, a lack of support or simply need someone to talk to who understands, you can contact the Educational Support Partnership or the TwinklCares team.

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