There is no doubt that teaching can be a very rewarding occupation. It is a job that brings so much joy and satisfaction: there is nothing quite like receiving a hand-written thank you card from students after they have overcome a particular challenge or passed a difficult exam. Throughout the year, pupils’ achievements – no matter how big or small – are a constant reminder that you have done your job well and made that tiny bit of difference to someone’s life. It is this little spark that makes you proud and glad that you chose to teach. It makes it all worthwhile.
That feeling can soon be forgotten when you are spending long evenings and nights doubled over a pile of coursework and exam papers that need to be marked by the morning, or those boxes of coursework waiting in the boot for you when you come back from holiday so that your students can have that much-needed feedback. There are those times when all the other teachers had gone home and your car was the only one remaining because your students had asked you to stay behind to help them. When it comes to teaching, you really have to give your all. It will never be a 9 to 5 job.
So how does this weigh up with the stress that is inevitably part and parcel of being a teacher? We have all heard the stories, we have all seen colleagues and friends who have been signed off work with the high levels of stress. Teaching can take over your whole life. It is simply impossible to not think about it when you are driving home, when you’re cooking tea, or even when you are sleeping. Many a teacher will have had nightmares about their lessons going horribly wrong. These nightly visions only serve to add to the already existing stress experienced during the day.
All teachers will have spent long hours in the classroom writing reports, preparing lessons, marking coursework, satisfying the ongoing and persistent demands for data drops and providing intervention and one-to-one support for weaker students; and this is on top of actually teaching the students. Added to this are those dreaded after-school meetings that can take up to two evenings a week, the Ofsted visits that make us shudder and tremble and the sleepless nights and long evenings that precede them – all resulting in one toxic cocktail.
Then, to top all that, there's the pressure on teachers to get the best possible results no matter what. Other factors are simply not taken into account and all blame, predictably, falls on the teacher. Children have a way of making life as difficult as they can in the classroom. Unruly behaviour is often the cause of poor performance and unsatisfactory outcomes. This, in turn, affects other students in the class, which then creates a stressful environment for the teacher.
And of course, there are many other factors which that a student’s ability to achieve. They may not have had the option of choosing the course they have been entered for and so lose interest. English may not be their first language, which will make it extremely difficult for both teacher and student to build up any kind of rapport. Other students may choose not to attend lessons because they “don’t see the point”. Then there are those students who have severe learning difficulties but no support and those whose home life does little to help them in their school life. It is a wonder that these children even make it into the classroom, let alone have the desire to learn. And yet, the teacher must overcome everything and ensure all students achieve their grades.
Despite all of this, being a teacher is still one of those jobs that brings a lot of pleasure. Being able to get the right balance between work and personal life is the key to avoiding stress and worry. It is not always easy to juggle the two, but it can be done. It is important to take time out for yourself and do the things that you want to do rather than need to do. It is about not feeling guilty because you have not had time to mark that much-needed coursework; you could use the time in the classroom and go through it with them one-to-one.
It is vital that you take those lunch- and breaktimes away from your classroom and avoid the temptation to mark a few papers or phone a parent or two; instead, spend it with colleagues who will probably lighten your mood resulting in a more productive you. Those students can be a pain but they can also be a pleasure with the right mixture of support and encouragement. I knew I had done my job well when my students cried on the day I left them.
Credit must go to all teachers who work so hard each and every day as they give their all to make sure that each child receives the best education possible. It is true that teaching is a very stressful occupation but it is equally true that all the efforts put in by teachers, as they sacrifice their home and family life for the benefit of their students, also makes it one of the most fulfilling of occupations.
The writer is a teacher in the UK