‘I love teaching, but it’s a soul-eating profession’

This teacher has returned to teaching after a break – but is too scared about their mental health to commit to a permanent role

Teacher wellbeing, wellbeing, mental health, teacher mental health,

I had been teaching for eight years, and had always loved it. I committed myself to the job wholeheartedly.

But by 2016, everything had changed.

I had always managed to cope with the workload and balanced the enjoyment of the job with the cons of pointless and never-ending to-do lists. However, I became downtrodden. It all seemed so unnecessary: the long, pointless meetings and the never-ending paperwork tasks. In my department we were all stressed out – and as a result, the dynamic changed for the worse.  

We were micro-managed, and my self-esteem suffered. I am a strong, experienced teacher, and yet I found myself questioning every decision – no matter how small, and I couldn’t go a day without speaking to management about issues that I was more than capable of making myself. To a stranger observing daily practice – and the amount of decisions we weren’t allowed to make – we would have looked like NQTs, newbies who needed close supervision and coaching, not capable teachers with years of experience.

I knew I needed a change. I was becoming more and more bitter and my attitude at work was mostly negative. My mental health was affected. The children placed a smile on my face from 9am to 3pm – my classroom still erupted with laughter daily. But my joyful spirit was fading. My smile would be erased by meetings after school, my good mood vanished. Most evenings I went home tired and fed up, questioning my career and heartbroken at the thought of potentially leaving the profession, the only career I can see – and have ever seen – myself in. I arrived to work anxious each morning about workload and about interacting with stressed colleagues.

The stress and workload of management meant we were receiving less positive feedback year by year. We all began contributing ideas less and less – we didn’t want to actively encourage the micro-management culture. More and more I asked myself, what’s the point?

I looked into moving schools but when looking at vacancies it became clear to me that my heart wasn’t in it.

And so I left everything behind and travelled around Asia alone, reflecting on what I wanted from my career. It was an amazing experience, but I worried throughout – I couldn’t find the answer I was looking for. Mostly, I felt upset at my lack of control over the English education system and the continuous difficulties and pressures that all teachers are currently facing.

On return to England I was surprised to feel excited about returning to the classroom and immediately contacted a teaching agency for supply work. I didn’t want to commit to a permanent role and gained a long-term supply teaching job in an amazing school.

I feel lost not having a permanent role but I am too frightened to commit. I’m anxious that I’ll lose even more confidence – I’m worried that my love for the profession will fade again. I don’t know what I’ll do if it does. I have been offered a permanent position but I don’t feel confident enough in my long-term ability to commit to accept this.

There’s something in the pit of my stomach that keeps me awake at night. I’ve let my guard down and thrown myself into work again, albeit supply, and I will always give the children I teach my all, regardless of security and position.

I love teaching but it’s a soul-eating profession and it scares the life out of me. I just hope my mental health isn’t affected like it was previously and that I gain enough confidence to try again on a permanent basis soon.

The writer is a primary teacher in the East Midlands.

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