When I recently read that female primary school teachers are 42 per cent more likely to commit suicide than the average woman, it made me angry but did not come as a surprise.
I am a very sensitive person. This seems to be a negative in society these days, but I know that it is my biggest asset. I care when children are upset and I care when colleagues are stressed.
But being a sensitive person made it almost impossible for me to teach. I was a good teacher and I enjoyed my job, but I would also regularly lie awake at night worrying if my best was good enough.
At times, the anxiety was crippling. Senior management would often criticise the one thing out of a hundred that I hadn’t managed to do. Parents didn’t notice the 29 kids I had managed to hear read that week, but were angry because I hadn’t had a chance to hear their child.
And it wasn’t only me. I would look around at my colleagues and see them drowning in paperwork, with little or no energy left for forming meaningful relationships. I heard teachers ask for help because they were waking up every morning feeling unable to face another day.
Attacked, criticised and micro-managed
People like me go into teaching to make a difference and help our youngest and most vulnerable members of society to grow and develop. Instead, we are attacked by the government, criticised by parents and micro-managed every minute of every day.
Very few professionals would put up with being spoon-fed and criticised to such an extent after spending four years studying and umpteen years actually doing a job.
The trust seems to have gone from the education system and, along with it, regrettably, a lot of excellent teachers who move onto other jobs for the sake of their mental health.
I had to leave teaching due to illness myself, but I now work as a wellbeing coach, and discuss this subject with other teachers a lot. The number one issue that they seem to struggle with is exactly the same one I found most difficult when I was teaching: the knowledge that by doing what they are required to do, they are in some way failing many of the children in their class.
Changing our perspective
During teacher training, we learn about child development and are told that all children are unique. But then we start teaching and are expected to force all of our pupils into the same child-shaped box. It is impossible to teach all children to achieve the same levels in all subjects.
We currently have an education system which is trying to fit square pegs into round holes. When the teachers fail to do so, they are the ones deemed to be failing.
Teachers care. They wouldn’t stay in teaching if they didn’t. We can’t have such a vital profession being bullied into depression, resignation and suicide.
It’s time that we took note of the statistics and changed the way that we look at primary education. Caring should never be a crime, and teachers should not be punished for it.
Kate Beddow is a former primary teacher who now works as a wellbeing and mindfulness coach. She tweets @KateBeddowUK.