Teaching is bad for your health…but it doesn’t have to be that way

14th April 2017 at 00:00
Teaching has always been demanding, but more and more is being piled on teachers’ plates: perhaps it’s time to say enough is enough

It’s a job that may soon have to come with a health warning. A Tes survey of more than 4,000 teachers confirms what many in education have long suspected: teaching is bad for you.

Some 97 per cent of respondents to the survey said that the job impacted negatively on their wellbeing, causing them stress and anxiety. Some 81 per cent said it impacted on their ability to maintain a healthy diet and 90 per cent on their ability to exercise.

Teaching has, of course, always been demanding – planning, marking and running extracurricular activities. But it’s now getting out of control with increased accountability pressures and extra duties fuelling the workload. Teachers are not just teaching: they also have to be alert to child abuse, hate crime, terrorism, breast ironing, female genital mutilation and honour-based abuse – the list is endless.

A term-time work overload was bearable when there were the holidays in which to recover. But there’s ever less opportunity to recharge the batteries, as work seeps more and more into time off. This Easter, many teachers have been running revision sessions for Sats and GCSEs. And that’s on top of the after-school and weekend booster sessions they have already been operating in term time. Some are even working the whole holidays. Skye Kennedy Cullen, counsellor at the Education Support Partnership, reports seeing “a lot of pressure”, especially on NQTs, to work through.

Don’t expect a solution from the Department for Education any time soon. Its complete lack of joined-up thinking is not helping matters in the slightest

It’s not only the work, though. It’s also the stress of the job. Many teachers are panicking about “how they pull their class up”. One poster on the Tes community reports anxiety about Sats results before the exams have even started. “The reading results from the Year 6 cohort look likely to be much weaker than last year due to the weaker cohort. I feel like resigning now. There is absolutely nothing I can do about it.”

Financial pressures will only make the situation even worse. We’ll have exhausted teachers trying to teach classes of 60. And don’t expect a solution from the Department for Education any time soon. Its complete lack of joined-up thinking is not helping matters in the slightest.

There’s absolutely no point taking steps to reduce workload without addressing accountability. In addition, its three main players are all going off in different directions: Lord Nash wants schools to embrace standardisation, Nick Gibb is obsessing about knowledge, phonics and fronted adverbials, while Justine Greening is championing the continuing professional development of teachers (can someone please tell her that it’s hard to professionalise a workforce on its knees). And all the while, No 10 is calling the shots.

Those hoping that Brexit negotiations will mean schools are ignored for a while need to be very, very careful what they wish for. Do we really want to be left in this cash-starved, high-accountability, chaotic limbo?

The situation teachers face is unsustainable and is seriously impacting on their health and on the education of the children they teach.

There needs to be a concerted effort by everyone on teacher wellbeing – government, unions, schools and governing bodies. But we might be waiting a long time for that. (In the meantime, teachers and schools can use the 26-page reboot special in this week's Tes magazine for a healthier life.)

The education system depends on teachers. Stop telling them to look out for all of society’s problems; instead, let’s allow them to teach and help them to look after themselves. In the constant battle to recruit teachers, it’s easy to overlook retention. Let’s learn to cherish the ones we’ve got.

@AnnMroz

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