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Sun and a sympathetic ear

It's never easy, is it? One minute you have six weeks holiday, the next you are back on the treadmill with another term growling in front of you. This time, more than I can ever remember, colleagues and friends are expressing slivers of self-doubt about whether they can actually rise to yet another year of challenges.

Maybe the truly dreadful Scottish summer of almost constant drizzle has weakened our resolve in ways deeper than imagined. Kids, too, look as if the absence of the sun has diminished them before they even start.

Human beings are adept at forgetting episodes of hardship and misery and maybe this is our salvation otherwise, the thought of the relentless grind of another school cycle would have us immobilised like rabbits caught in headlights. As a species, we are expert at repeating patterns of behaviour, regardless of the consequences this ensures that the school year continues without too much of an exodus of its staff.

We reach March and learn all over again what pressure is as we struggle to get through Higher Still courses and deal with unmotivated pupils who have failed their prelims. These are major stressors.

Many school pupils suffer mental health problems. It would appear that cases of self-harming are increasing, with statistics now indicating that at least one in 10 teenage girls self-harm. Two people commit suicide every day in Scotland and the Highlands has the highest rate of suicides in the UK. I sometimes wonder if we do enough to tackle these problems.

Secondary schools do have support mechanisms for pupils in the form of guidance tutors. However, these individuals are responsible for a myriad of remits, from chasing up poor attendance to attending children's panel hearings to writing references for university. Somewhere in the midst of all this, they have to find time and resources to be counsellors.

What about staff? Many organisations have on their staff a trained counsellor who is a neutral being with no axe to grind. No such person exists in the Scottish education system to my knowledge. Various mentors might exist in schools in the guise of solution-oriented schools' coaches for example, but there is no one who might be regarded as a professional counsellor. Staff review and development, when people have their annual chat (and this doesn't happen in all schools), isn't really a forum for divulging deep personal problems. Telephone support lines can't match the strength of real people on the ground.

Most workers don't perform well when they are stressed and unhappy, yet teachers are always expected to deliver. Unlike many other jobs, when employees can often retreat into a corner of the office for a coffee, we are governed by bells which, because of the nature of the job, inevitably take no account of individual circumstances or burdens. The job itself is becoming so onerous that it is often forgotten that, in addition to these pressures, teachers have personal lives which may be stressful.

Might it not then be a good idea to provide schools with a trained drop-in therapist facility, so that teachers have a sympathetic listening ear from someone who doesn't have to worry about who to report the exchange to, because it will be as sacred as the confessional? Such support would result in calmer teachers who take less time off for illness. Everyone would benefit.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy

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