The day my life changed - Ofsted rated me outstanding, but teaching left me in a state of mental collapse

7th January 2011 at 00:00

I had my first breakdown when I was 19, well before I became a teacher. I had not made the connection, but it was all due to my being raped at 14 and sexual abuse that took place before that.

For my first suicide attempt, I drank half a bottle of vodka and swallowed a whole bottle of aspirin - about 60 tablets. A friend took me to hospital. I had my stomach pumped and was unconscious for a few days. About four months later, I tried again. This time I nearly died. I took a full month's worth of anti-depressants and drank quite a lot of alcohol. I was unconscious for three days.

I had two more serious bouts of depression: one after the birth of my son, and the other in response to health problems. But by 1997, I felt well enough to do my teacher training. I loved teaching business studies at first, watching pupils learn - but then came my first violent incident. A girl from another class was causing trouble with a small group of my pupils who were working in the atrium.

I went to sort it out and she lunged at me. She was only in Year 8, but she was quite a big girl. I got out of the way just in time, but it was still frightening.

The next day I was told that the girl had been found dead. She had been sniffing solvents and was found collapsed in her front garden.

I was left in deep shock, especially as I was the last teacher to have had contact with her. The attack itself also unnerved me. From then on, I always felt fearful in my own classroom.

It was a challenging school and a lot of the pupils were known to the police. I am 5ft 8in, but some of the pupils still towered over me. In the case of an attack, I would be totally powerless.

In the second incident, a child with ADHD got into a rage, picked up his desk and launched it at me. It missed, but the potential for a serious accident was there.

I sent him to the head, who told him off before sending him back into my classroom. While the school had been very supportive of the first, more public incident, this more serious attack was brushed under the carpet.

I started to doubt my capabilities as a teacher. My confidence was seriously undermined and I left.

I subsequently found my dream job working part-time at an outstanding school. The pupils wanted to learn and there were no behaviour problems. But then a pupil kicked in my classroom door.

Unbeknown to me, his anger had been identified as an issue in Year 7. I was the last person of the day to have a go at him - for being late - and he just lost it.

It terrified me. I started to feel vulnerable, especially at the end of the day when no one else was around. It may have been irrational, but the fear was incapacitating.

I stopped eating and sleeping properly. It was clear I wasn't coping with the job. I was signed off for a term, and on my return Ofsted arrived.

My head had agreed with the inspector that I should not be observed because I had been off, which I found hurtful. I wanted to be observed to prove to myself that I was a capable teacher. In the end, there was a mix-up and I was observed. I received an "outstanding", which shocked my head. It was clear that he doubted my abilities and I had lost his support. It went downhill from there. I started to shake in the classroom, had anxiety attacks and could barely write on the board.

I ended up having a total meltdown and was admitted to a psychiatric unit. I decided then that I could never return to the classroom.

I retired on health grounds last year with a diagnosis of mixed personality disorder. I truly believe teaching contributed to my final collapse.

As told to Hannah Frankel. Mental health charity Rethink runs awareness workshops for trainee teachers. Visit www.rethink.org.

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