Bravery in the classroom

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With more 26,000 reported incidents of stress in the past six months, Julian Stanley calls for a culture of engagement in education, where staff do not feel stigmatised for sharing problems.

Ancestry, the archive research company, recently revealed that teachers were the most likely servicemen to be awarded for bravery in the First World War. It makes interesting reading, but what type of bravery is required for modern day teaching?

Much like their professional forebears, teachers today need to demonstrate leadership and courage. Pupil behaviour is reported to have significantly worsened over the past five years (a recent YouGov survey we conducted shows that 46 per cent of secondary school teachers agree with this). 

Add exacting academic standards and additional pressure in managing a demanding workload and it is no wonder that teachers are feeling the strain more than ever.

Poor behaviour from pupils requires teachers to make difficult decisions in the classroom. It diverts attention from helping as many students as possible to achieve their potential and instead forces teachers to focus on managing the room, rather than engaging in teaching and learning that develops and supports pupils.

Clearly, teaching is by no means as frightening as being in a war situation, but the resilience required to meet the daily challenge of teaching does involve stepping out of the comfort zone. A teacher has to keep up the momentum regardless of whether they have a personal crisis or are feeling unwell. Teaching demands that professionals deliver a daily performance and remain on form. 

Sadly, all too often, we hear of teachers who hide the strain they are under. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics last month show that 15 million days working days were lost last year due to stress, anxiety and depression. Our own research reinforces this, with more 26,000 incidents of stress in the past six months reported through calls on our support line from teachers suffering from fatigue, tired of fighting the battle against their stress, anxiety and depression that came as a result of pressures in and out of the classroom. 

Rather than suffering in silence, feeling as though they have failed for not being able to manage the workload, deal with money problems or issues at home, these teachers had the courage to admit there was something wrong and sought help. Creating a more open and supportive environment allows these issues to be tackled effectively and keeps teachers motivated.

If we are to win the war on stress and anxiety in teaching, a more supportive and positive tone from the government would help. Teaching is a noble and rewarding profession, but there is a worrying lack of acknowledgement from senior political figures recognising the pressures teachers face in schools today. 

We need to create a culture of engagement where staff do not feel stigmatised for sharing their problems. We need to see more support and praise coming from colleagues and the wider public, and less emphasis (in some sections of the media) characterising teachers in a way that makes the profession sound feckless and obsessed with outmoded ideologies. Teachers are professionals with wide-ranging expertise and a deep-seated commitment to helping students succeed in all areas of their lives.

You know the type; the ones who lift possibilities and encourage ambition. The ones who inspire that lightbulb moment and positively change the mindset of a group of young people. It takes determination, skill and the support of colleagues for teachers to reach their potential. For many, it is a more daunting task today than it was for their predecessors.

  • Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).


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