'Teachers feel underappreciated like never before'

Teacher Douglas Clark asked more than 1,000 colleagues how Covid could be made more bearable – here's what they said
23rd November 2020, 10:59am
Douglas Clark


'Teachers feel underappreciated like never before'

Coronavirus & Schools: 'teachers Feel Under-appreciated Like Never Before'

As a thank you, Morrisons supermarkets have offered teachers a 10 per cent discount on their shopping until the end of January 2021. Whether a genuine support for teacher wellbeing or a cynical marketing ploy, I personally really appreciate it. How is it then that on the two or three occasions that I have been into the supermarket since the offer was made, I've felt too uncomfortable to ask for it? Why didn't I take advantage of the offered discount?

I can say, anecdotally, after speaking to a number of colleagues, that the profession is feeling undervalued and under-appreciated like never before. This may be down to the stress we are all under but that doesn't make the feeling any less valid. I confess that this is where my reluctance to take advantage of the kind offer on my shopping comes from. I have even felt something akin to survivor's guilt given that (for the most part) our jobs are secure in such uncertain times for so many.  

I asked the 1,200-plus members of a teachers' support group that I set up in Scotland what they would wish for in an ideal (and realistic) world, to make the pandemic a little more bearable. Here are some of the suggestions:

  • The occasional gesture like time out to take part in a meaningful wellbeing activity.
  • Perspex screens around desks.
  • No unnecessary bureaucracy that doesn't contribute to learning and teaching.
  • Adequate personal protective equipment that's fit for purpose.
  • Recognition of the stresses associated with working in a pandemic, and doing everything possible to reduce anxiety.
  • "No-cross lines" showing pupils areas they should avoid, to help to maintain social distance.

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I have no way other than professional judgement of knowing if these suggestions are representative of all teachers, but there is no doubt that there are some very obvious themes.

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But listen, I don't ever want to be the "there must be a better way" guy without offering any solutions, so here's what I've done:

  • Put staff and older pupils through mental health first aid qualifications, which would normally be prohibitively expensive in the current financial climate.
  • Started a podcast that focuses in large part on the educational journeys of my guests and how they maintain good mental health.
  • Set up a teacher support group, as a safe space to air worries and offer comfort to others.

So, what kind of thing could you do? 

  • Check how up to date the mental health policy is in your school. If there isn't one, write one and propose it to your headteacher
  • Make mental health and wellbeing a standing item on all meeting agendas. 
  • Become a mental health first-aider
  • Take advantage of any CPD that is being offered to you around wellbeing and mental health.
  • Don't let anyone suggest that just because you want to look after your own health, this means you are somehow less committed to the pupils; teachers will always tend to put themselves in harm's way, or dip into their reserves, whether mental, physical or financial, for the benefit of their pupils
  • Buy any educational or otherwise books that you think might inspire you - anything by Sir Ken Robinson would be a great start
  • Buy your neighbours random gifts that they might not expect. I bought ours a packet of ground coffee that I know they like, which put a smile on their face and made me feel great.

"Douglas, you're being too pessimistic," I hear you cry. Maybe, but I prefer "realistic". I want to help my fellow teachers be on the front foot as winter approaches.

Let's go back to the support group I mentioned earlier. I asked everyone to take some time for themselves, and go to the SAMH (Scottish Association For Mental Health) website and use their "wellbeing tool". This is based on the WEMWBS (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales) questionnaire for measuring mental wellbeing, and, worryingly, more than a third posted a score below the range in which most people in the general population score.

It's about time we started looking after ourselves, and got along for that couple of quid off our groceries, don't you think?

Douglas Clark is a maths teacher in Scotland and host of the Journeys in Education podcast. He tweets @mr_d_clark

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