Five things teachers need to stop doing 

All these things increase stress and are within our control, argues Jo Steer

Jo Steer

progress 8 recipe

A 2017 mental health survey of educational professionals discovered that a horrifying 75 per cent of participants had experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms of poor mental health as a result of their work. 

Similarly, 2018 research from the Liberal Democrats found that one in every 83 teachers is off work for a month or more, as a result of mental illness.

As optimistic as I strive to be, I can’t honestly say that I believe that this will be fixed – quickly, or even at all, the profession being so damaged as it is.

Quick read: Seven healthy snacks to get you through the day

Quick listen: "Shocking" levels of depression among teachers

Want to know more? If you are having any mental problems, there is support available from charities like Mind

Mental health: making changes

I will say, however, that having experienced severe anxiety for an extensive period, and working through this with the help of a cognitive behaviour therapist, I do believe that there are steps you can take to reduce stress.

One of the most thought-provoking "homework" tasks that I completed was a lateral-thinking style "recipe for stress", in which I had to basically write out instructions as if encouraging the reader to increase their stress and anxiety. 

Approaching with trepidation (I’ve never been great at "Thunks") I soon realised that I had an endless stream of ideas. 

Why? Because I’d unwittingly been following it for years.

Read on and ask yourself if you’ve been following the wrong "how to" like I was.

1. Prioritise work above all else

Hobbies, social events, errands, gym visits (ha!) and other life-based activities are all well and good, but only if your work schedule allows. Plan them in by all means, but if you didn’t finish marking that set of books, you know what needs to be done. Never let life get in the way of being the best teachers you can be.

2. Live for the holidays

Of course, we don’t want to be unreasonable here – you can’t forego "life" altogether. Just pack away your expectation of happiness, opening it only slightly on your one day off a weekend and really letting loose on those 12 weeks off a year (once your school prep is done though – see number 1). And on the subject of holidays…don’t forget to book out each day with all those doctors, dentist and hair appointments you wouldn’t think to take in term-time. Not a moment to waste!

3. Complain excessively, just not to anyone who matters

Letting off steam is natural and healthy… so rant, rant, rant away. Just be sure you don’t complain to anyone important – ie school leaders, governors or union reps – nothing will get done anyway, so you may as well just blather on to your friends and loved ones. That’s what they’re there for after all.

4. Take comfort in junk food and Netflix marathons

In that hour's rest between laptop and bed, by all means get your feet up on the couch with your third takeaway of the week and a large glass of vino. You work far too hard to concern yourself with healthy eating or exercise – this is about survival.

5. Never turn down an opportunity

Say yes to every new project, meeting, initiative and role, regardless of whether there’s extra income or time allocated. It’s flattering that you’ve even been thought of, and just imagine how impressed the head will be when they see the fruits of your all-or-nothing, perfectionist work-ethic...

If this sounds like you, then don't fret: I managed to get over this recipe for disaster, and you can, too. It won't solve all the problems you have with teaching, but it will be a decent place to start. 

Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions and wellbeing strategies

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Jo Steer

Jo Steer is a former leader now working with schools as a wellbeing consultant

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