Teachers could be counsellors

29th August 2008 at 01:00
The launch last week of Teacher Support Scotland's services reminds us once again of the uniquely stressful nature of classroom life. Teachers can never drop their guard and are required to exercise a level of unremitting control over upwards of 30 pupils to establish a reasonable learning environment.

Although stress can be induced by the way a school is run or by the nature of its catchment area, there are some teachers who have a pre-disposition towards anxiety, which is often ignored and misunderstood.

As a society, we no longer stigmatise the mentally ill. Yet, regrettably, we still find a tendency to dismiss as weak and inadequate teachers who find the management of classroom life difficult. In the folklore of teaching, we admire those who are "good disciplinarians", "keep a firm hold on classes" or "stand no nonsense".

Yet most teachers, if they are honest, will testify that, at some point in their teaching career, they have encountered difficulties in coping with the relentless pressure to maintain good order in the classroom, leading to the kind of emotional exhaustion colloquially known as a "mental breakdown".

Surely, these teachers ought to have access to counselling support. It seems strange that the educational community is reluctant to produce solutions to this problem.

Progress could be made if the profession acknowledged that the problem exists and can be alleviated with the minimum of bureaucratic structures. All it would take would be for one teacher in a secondary school to volunteer for the role of counsellor-teacher. Those who have done short courses in counselling skills report that they are convinced of the value of an experienced teaching colleague being able to offer support to other teachers on a confidential and self-referral basis.

It is time for teacher organisations, education authorities and the Scottish Government to address the problem and will the means to end this blemish on the teaching profession.

Stan Gilmore, Institute of Counselling, Dixon Street, Glasgow.

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