Signed off for stress creates a vicious circle

11th July 2008 at 01:00
It is the holidays

It is the holidays. I fall asleep each night quickly, and sleep through the night.

I wake up with a lightness of heart, happy and filled with anticipation.

I like my job. It is just that teaching is such an intense job, with no let-up. It must be hellish for those who are not coping. We may be tied to the routine of a timetable and a syllabus, but no day is ever the same. There is rarely a day without some hassle. So we need the predictability of the hols to stay sane.

It is not that unusual to have staff who don't make it to the end of term, and stress must be the main reason for teachers being absent. Most often, it will be for one or two days - long enough to recharge the batteries.

Sometimes, it takes a couple of weeks. But when it slides into months, then the problem is coming back. The longer you are off, the harder it is to walk back through the door. Then the panic sets in, and the GP has little option but to sign another sick line, and the vicious circle is in play.

We need more time to chat, more open doors, more space to vent our frustrations and certainly more support when we are feeling helpless.

Zero tolerance of bad behaviour isn't an option in a school, but a more realistic approach to difficult classes is necessary. Sometimes, it is the curriculum which is at fault when the work is not appropriate to today's child. Sometimes, it is the teacher's reaction; sarcasm isn't acceptable these days. But more usually, it is simply lack of support - issues not being dealt with quickly enough by senior staff, or intervention not put in place when a teacher is clearly not coping with a situation or class. Everyone is too busy.

Doctors must find it difficult: they can't offer counselling to all patients who need it, so, instead, they sign them off.

I like the way I feel on holiday - rested and full of energy. I'd be a better teacher if I felt like this at work. But we need teamwork and collegiality for that to happen. We also need a recognition that, although teaching is a difficult job, the school has failed teachers who are signed off with stress.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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