Harrowing tales from the deep end of class
WORK STRESS. By David Wainwright and Michael Calnan. Open University Press pound;17.99
Emotions of Teacher Stress is not a book for the faint-hearted; some of the case studies are horrific. There is practical help for the newly qualified or junior teacher in the last chapter, particularly useful if you can read the signs and want to change your job in time.
But this is principally a book to be read by those in power in education. It exposes the current malaise in teaching - the split between the values of those who determine what teachers should do and teachers' own values. It will encourage those who work in schools that have retained a "human" and supportive approach to managing education and continued to place a high value on people and listen to what they feel as much as monitoring how they "perform", and who are focused on the needs of the child. Those who believe in "tough management" and getting rid of "failing" teachers, whether at Ofsted, government or school level, should also read it, but probably won't: they can't afford to unless they are prepared to change.
Carlyle and Woods examine teacher stress in the context of the emotional interaction between students and teachers that is fundamental to the profession. In the earlier chapters, they use their case studies of individual teachers to illustrate a now substantial background of research into teacher stress, examining its origins (disempowerment; management pressures; lack of respect; climates of fear; the "emotional labour" involved in teaching). They describe the downward spiral towards the inability to cope both on a professional and personal level,. They explain "bottoming out" as recognising the situation and seeking help, and then show how some teachers reconstruct their identity by finding emotional balance in their lives. Sadly, more than half of the people involved have done so completely outside teaching.
The implications for the management of the education system are obvious. People operate best, and perform to a higher level, in supportive, humane work environments. What minister, in the current macho political climate, is brave enough to acknowledge the importance of a "no-blame" culture, and the need to admit that "we all make mistakes"? This message is central to this book. And there is an underlying message that, unless things change, too close an emotional identification with the job will damage your health, unless you are working in the right school.
David Wainwright and Michael Calnan's Work Stress is a technical but accessible book about workplace stress in general. Certainly, it is a book for those who want to read into the subject deeply. It combines personal accounts with research background and will be useful to those who have to deal with stressed colleagues and who have an interest in prevention. The authors examine the extent to which the acceptance of stress forces people to endure it without expecting any relief from it. The book also explores the difficulty of maintaining one's self-identity while seeking help, and the powerful resistance many have to accepting the need for help. For those genuinely interested in the importance of having mental illness (at whatever level) accepted as treatable, in the way that ailments from a broken leg to cancer may be treatable, this is a valuable and thought- provoking book.
Irene Dalton is head of Wombwell high school, Barnsley. A longer version of this review appears in First Appointments magazine today