‘Precious resource’

Teacher are a precious resource at the moment in England, I don’t know if you’ve heard but the Education sector has a recruitment crisis. It is in a perfect storm of rising pupil numbers, falling teacher recruitment and poor teacher retention.

Official figures show that the country will need nearly 160,000 additional teachers over the next three years to cope with a projected 582,000 rise in primary and secondary age pupils by 2020.

A NASUWT survey from 2012 revealed:

  • 83% had reported workplace stress
  • 67% said their job has adversely impacted their mental or physical health
  • Almost half of the three thousand respondents reported they had seen a doctor because of work-related mental or physical health problems
  • 5% had been hospitalised, and
  • 2% said they had self-harmed.

On a personal level my good friend Rob Howe, has blogged about his own experience in schools and suggested how bullying may even be occurring towards the teachers themselves.

” When I was an NQT myself, the pressure to perform in an ‘Outstanding’ school was constant. I struggled to learn the ropes at the pace I was expected and I was ostracised by my department as a result. I was threatened, put under mounting pressure and when my employment was questioned, SLT manipulated my position and showed me the back door.I left demoralised, on the brink of a breakdown. All at the age of 24.


It is this last section which shocks me the most. A breakdown is described as “a general term for an acute, time-limited psychiatric disorder that manifests primarily as severe stress-induced depression, anxiety, or dissociation in a previously functional individual, to the extent that they are no longer able to function on a day-to-day” Fisicaro et al. (1998). While I feel Rob may be using this in the more pejorative sense, the fact that this comparison can be drawn at all tells of the horrors of certain sections of our profession. People who educate for a living sometimes forget to allow for growth among their own, in fact they forget so badly that the cause great pain to their staff.

Teaching should be incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling – how that is achieved is probably a mixture of good management AND good self-management. It would be ludicrous to suggest that everybody was healthy in the profession and, of course, ludicrous to suggest that everybody had good mental health.

Even in good schools, which don’t do manage and support their staff well- teaching is a hard game to be in. It is easy to see how just the job itself could be mentally damaging. To be a teacher nowadays,I would argue, you need to be psychologically bulletproof. To deal with large workloads ,constant challenges and at times a social life (or life at all) on hold. The best tool at our disposal is not responsive mental health, it is preemptive: what I shall call ‘bulletproofing.’

Teachers don’t achieve their best, and are stifled from the growth and development. The cause of the stress may even be their skill set, but in some cases their management of themselves is the priority before developing their practice. The solution to this problem is vital to teacher and school alike, and it is not going anywhere. It is children who suffer the most from having over-worked, stressed teachers who lack good self-esteem.

More importantly, when teachers suffer the knock on effect is on the children. This doesn’t just have an impact on students who have teachers with psychological issues, but those with teachers full stop. We have to be calm, secure and confident. If we are not, our emotions will waiver and this will create uncertainty.

Regardless of the teacher, we can all improve our lessons by improving our psychology. Even if it is a marginal gain, it is worth the investment in time.

In part two I’ll deal with what I think schools and, perhaps more importantly, teachers can do to enhance this aspect of their performance- using the model given by Dr Steve Peters, who has been vital in sports psychology and the improvements made by both Team Sky and Team GB cycling.