You'll never teach alone

21st September 2001 at 01:00
If your family can't relate to your problems, then maybe a teacher-turned-counsellor can help, reports Helen Ward.

CHRIS had rung Teacherline distressed and desperate. He had just failed the numeracy skills test for the second time, by two points. Why go through it again? Why not go for an easier job?

The introduction of the skills tests prompted a flood of calls to Teacherline, a telephone counselling service for teachers. Trainees are now allowed unlimited attempts to pass the tests, but at first they had just four chances and failure meant the end of their career.

Tom Lewis, Teacherline's education consultant and counsellor, said: "People would phone up in a blind panic about the tests. We had people thinking about not pursuing a teaching career."

Teacherline exists precisely to deal with such dilemmas. It is unique in its thorough knowledge of the teaching world. Its 30-strong team of counsellors include nine who have worked in education and two who still do, juggling counselling work with part-time teaching. And Tom, a former deputy head at Frederick Bird Primary School in Coventry, has the job of briefing everyone on the latest hot topics in the staffroom.

For Chris, that meant a counsellor who understood his worries and could help him face them, by talking through what he had achieved and suggesting ways of preparing himself for another test.

Teacherline heard from Chris once more - he'd decided to re-sit. The counselling service, run by First Assist for TBF, the teacher support network, has taken 25,000 calls in the past two years. The top three issues dealt with are: conflict with colleagues or managers, workload and concerns about coping after long-term sick leave.

Claire, for example, was an experienced teacher, but this year she had some pupils who were playing up. She rang Teacherline after becoming increasingly worried that her head thought she couldn't cope. She feared for her job, but felt worn down and unable to develop new approaches because she was already working "all hours possible".

With the counsellor's help, Claire saw that while a few pupils were creating problems, most were "on task". Practical ways of managing pupils and helping Claire become more assertive were discussed.

But the service is not just for professional problems. Many calls are about issues such as relationship breakdown, bereavement or debt.

Maggie Fuller, head of Teacherline's clinical department, said: "Teachers are busy people. They don't feel they can take time out to see a counsellor. We can discuss things at a time which suits them, whether that is 7am or 10pm."

TBF, formerly known as the Teachers Benevolent Fund, pumped pound;214,509 into Teacherline last year, on top of Government grants totalling pound;470,638.

In proposals put to the Department for Education and Skills, TBF envisages funding the 24-hour helpline in its entirety in less than five years, by reorganising its "paid for" services to cover the future costs of Teacherline.

Its employee assistance and "well-being" programmes for education staff, which provide local telephone support, counselling and information services, have already been taken up by Greenwich and Norfolk - and discussions with 20 to 30 other LEAs are continuing. Not only will this bring in money, but the remaining Teacherline service will cost less, as more have local services.

* Chris and Claire are based on the experiences of a number of callers. Teacherline is a confidential service.

Contact Teacherline on 08000 562 561. The Teacher support network is online at www.teachersupport.org.uk

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