Teacher wellbeing: Reach out for help

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
A helping hand: Laura is one of thousands of teachers who have been helped through tough times by the Education Support Partnership’s free, confidential helpline

In January, when the days are cold and dark, the pressure of our roles can feel overwhelming. Julian Stanley urges any teacher who is struggling to pick up the phone...

The new year never fails to be the busiest period of the year for Education Support Partnership’s free, confidential helpline.

On cold, dark days when our reserves are low, and the Christmas break is already a distant memory, the demands and pressures of the role can seem insurmountable.

Many of our helpline callers have reached breaking point by the time they get in touch, but we would urge anyone to pick up the phone, to share and work through worries and concerns before it reaches a crisis point. Taking this step is a proven way to protect wellbeing and prevent an escalation of stress.

If you are in a leadership role, it is a timely opportunity to lead by example, to encourage staff to talk and let them know help is out there, to press the importance of making our health and wellbeing a priority.

Run by a team of professionally trained counsellors, our specialist helpline deals with thousands of calls every year from teachers and others working in education.

Victoria, a head of geography at a secondary school, was stressed and anxious when she called us due to a relentless workload and unreasonable expectations.

Having established a department in a new free school where very little was set up, she had struggled with the volume of work together with the growing emphasis on data and assessment. Despite asking for support to identify where she could reduce her workload, she did not get help, became exhausted and after two years broke down one day at school. She was sent home and knew that if she didn’t speak to someone, she would never go back.

Victoria called our helpline and found that the counsellor was able to draw her out. “At first I struggled.” She said, “but she asked questions that soon got my thoughts and feelings coming out. Once I’d started I couldn’t stop. She just listened.”

With the counsellor’s help, Victoria found the courage to go to the doctors and take a short period off work. With more helpline support, she was able to return.

Half of respondents to our most recent YouGov health survey – The mental health and wellbeing of education professionals in the UK – who had experienced problems said that talking to someone helped give them perspective and helped them realise they weren’t alone.

In one of a specially commissioned new series of films, illustrating how our charity can improve teacher wellbeing, Laura, pictured, is another teacher who speaks of how the demands on her as a professional and as a parent had become too much.

While her husband was extremely supportive, she found that despite working very long hours throughout the week and weekend, she still felt she wasn’t doing enough. She felt she was not able to do the job of teacher or mother properly. She had moved schools feeling a new challenge would refresh her but it actually just made things worse.

Laura eventually called our free helpline in despair and talking to a counsellor made her think carefully about how she needed to change things. After two days of careful consideration she handed in her notice at school.

She explained: “The phone call to your helpline was absolutely the moment when things started to get better. I cannot thank you enough. Your number needs to be on every staffroom wall.” Laura has since started a new role at a new school.

Though it can sometimes take time to muster the necessary courage to pick up the phone, the value of simply talking to a specialist in complete confidence, cannot be under-estimated. As Victoria concludes: “I can honestly say that the support I received from Education Support Partnership has kept me in teaching. Without that first phone call I can guarantee I would have left teaching.”

  • Julian Stanley is the CEO of the Education Support Partnership.

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