'I was overwhelmed but my school wasn't equipped to support those of us who were struggling with stress'

After finding herself in tears at school as a result of stress, this primary teacher sought help from her headteacher and was more than underwhelmed by the response

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It's the end of a long day and I feel emotionally drained after spending part of the afternoon sitting in the head’s office in tears – and then spending much of my evening in the same state. Not because of anything I've done and not because of any one thing: it's everything and nothing at the same time. I realise that I am suffering from stress, complete with palpitations, racing heart and feelings of inadequacy.

I've recently returned to teaching after taking some time off to raise my daughter. I do love teaching and I thought that things might be a little easier after two years away. But, if anything, the job feels even harder now.

As the latest crying fit was the second incident within school hours, I decided that it was time to ask for help from the headteacher. This took a lot of courage and I thought I'd feel much better once I'd shared everything, but the headteacher gave me more things to think about, so now I'm even more worried.

'Schools aren't equipped'

I don't think schools are equipped to help or to deal with these situations. Just finding the headteacher was a mammoth task – and then I had to wait while she sorted out a finance matter. After that, there was the clumsy way she sat me down and attempted to address the problem.

She asked the same questions I have been asking myself as I lay awake in bed, then latched onto one or two issues she felt she could deal with. And then came a brusque “right, do you think you can go back to class or do you need a minute?”

I was still in tears and my eyes were red, but I felt compelled to say "yes". I just splashed some water on my eyes and hoped no one would notice.

Of course, there's nothing worse than feeling that low and being asked by the children if you've been crying, which is exactly what happened.

I understand that schools are busy places. Headteachers are hounded to produce results and this pressure inevitably gets transferred to teachers. But when there is an issue, managers are often too busy to deal with it. My year group leader has no time for class teachers’ problems. She has too many problems of her own to keep on top of. The same goes for the rest of my colleagues. It is not their fault, it is just the way it is. But then where do people go who are struggling for help?

Effects of stress

And the problems themselves feel endless. Workload, deadlines, test result pressures, work-life balance, being a good mum…

The headteacher asked if I have any “me time”, to which I laughed in response. Every spare moment I have once my daughter is in bed is spent doing school work. So, where does the “me time” come from? Out of my daughter's time? Or out of the working-at-home time, which barely allows me to keep up with the workload?

I consider myself to be a strong person. This feeling of helplessness is hard for me to deal with. I'm not used to asking for support – and when that request for help is not handled very well, it only makes things worse.

What I hadn't realised about stress is how it affects you mentally. Little things that I wouldn't have batted an eyelid at before are now reducing me to tears. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. If we aren’t able to reduce the amount of stress that teachers are placed under, it is certainly time that schools got better at supporting those of us who are struggling to cope.

The writer is a primary teacher from London

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