Don't make yourself ill

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Advice for teachers in their early career

Work takes me to some tough areas so I know what it can be like, but I've been struck recently by how many stressed teachers I'm seeing. There's Cath, whose voice carried so much emotion and hurt she was barely audible, and despite eating well, she has lost so much weight since September.

You may think that your first year of teaching, like the first year in any job, is going to be stressful - but it shouldn't have such an impact on your overall wellbeing. The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed upon them. It arises when they worry they can't cope." Too often, experienced teachers forget what their first year was like and don't realise that people doing the same task in the same setting will respond to the same pressure differently - and that's not a fault but a fact of life.

If you're feeling stressed, tell your induction tutor and senior staff that you can't cope. Let them know what might help - an extension to a deadline, taking a disruptive child away from you.

Unfortunately, I know schools that pile on more pressure, rather than look for ways to reduce it or find other solutions. For instance, Dean isn't doing well and is being observed twice a week. A secondary teacher who's been signed off by her doctor for stress is still having to send in plans and instructions for every lesson and marking the pupils' work. Very helpful! The heads not only demonstrate a remarkable lack of humanity and common sense, but risk being sued.

Recently, the House of Lords ruled that employers must take the initiative to protect employees once they know that an individual is vulnerable to stress-related illness. Alan Barber of East Bridgwater secondary school was awarded pound;72,547 plus interest and costs against his employers, Somerset County Council. The judgment overturned an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal where the onus was on the employee to ensure that the employer is kept fully informed. You may want to let your head know.

Sara Bubb's The Insider's Guide for New Teachers is published by TESKogan Page (pound;12.99)See www.tes.co.uk

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