It was just before Easter when Victoria Hewett broke down in tears in front of her class.
“I didn’t know it was coming at all,” the Kent-based geography teacher says. “I just got really quite stressed, because they weren’t listening. I just said something like, ‘If you fail, I tried my best to help you.’ And then I burst into tears.”
Hewett had been working as head of humanities at a free school; she was, in fact, the only humanities teacher, so was covering history and RE, as well as geography.
“I was really worried about going in the next day,” she says. “I was worried the kids would think I was a rubbish teacher and not worth listening to.”
In fact, their behaviour improved, at least for a short while, before “they went back to being teenagers”, Hewett says.
But, after Easter, Hewett walked into a lesson, immediately thought “I can’t be here”, and walked out again. She made it as far as the staffroom. “I just sat in there and cried for – it felt like for ever, but was probably just an hour. I couldn’t explain why I was in that state.”
She was subsequently signed off work by her GP, but was persuaded by her headteacher to return. However, she says, she worried about the effect that her poor mental health would have on her pupils.
“I was tired; I was quick to snap,” she says. “Obviously, that has a huge impact on the kids. Rather than supporting them and helping them through their work, I just snapped at them and then felt awful afterwards.”
And her pupils inevitably picked up on this: “There were particular crunch times in the school term, when the kids knew that all the teachers were quite stressed. They could feel that. Their behaviour would get a bit worse during that time,” says Hewett.
“At the end of lessons, I’d feel teary, and that would impact on the lesson after that. You just go away at the end of the day thinking, ‘Have I done the best for the kids?’”