Be honest, how many times did someone mention the length of your holidays this summer or ask how you could be stressed if you have so much time off?
How did you respond? Did you tell them the truth: that you spend much of your vacation time planning, preparing and organising for the next academic year? Maybe you laughed off the question altogether. After all, school staff are not really that stressed, are they?
Between 2010 and 2011, there were 45,633 calls or emails to the Teacher Support Network from more than 19,000 users made up of current, former and retired staff in education and their families.
Money was one of the biggest issues, with the charity handling 7,334 incidents related to personal finances during the two-year period. Health and wellbeing accounted for 16,602 during the period, with 4,589 of those specifically relating to anxiety.
A further 3,002 incidents concerned problems with family relationships, while 2,180 were logged by people losing sleep over their worries. Interestingly, these incidents are more likely to happen during the autumn term. November is the busiest month for our support line.
You may have noticed that the issues listed above are not education related. Perhaps some people may be surprised that we do not just receive calls on more professional subjects like managing behaviour or workload, but that teachers are calling about the issues that affect their day-to-day lives too.
Then it is easy to forget that teachers are people too. Teachers, like everyone else, need to cover the costs of their housing and transport and perhaps raising a family and having a social life. They also have the concerns that anyone has about relationships within their families and social circles.
In short, teachers are faced with the same problems as everyone else, in addition to those issues such as structural change, pensions and the fear of redundancy.
So you may ask why do teachers need specific support? What makes teachers different from the general workforce?
The difference is that if I have a bad day because of outside pressures, maybe it will affect three or four of my colleagues at the office; if a teacher has the same bad time, it could affect hundreds of pupils and their futures.
Perhaps this is a little dramatic, but you only need to look at the current row over GCSE grades to see the impact that education, in this case as a result of exam boards, can have on thousands of students, their teachers and their families.
Teachers need personal and professional support, because the impact they have in their pupils’ or students’ lives is so large. Yet, while teachers need support, they cannot afford to spend much time accessing it (that’s almost like expecting teachers to visit their bank during office hours).
Teacher Support Network has looked at the services it provides as well as how it provides them. From this month, we have added new services that help teachers with their personal lives, as well as their professional ones. We have also introduced new ways to contact us, but we can all play a part in “humanising” the profession.
We know from the figures that the next few months will be a stressful time both in and out of the workplace. Workload and money worries may take their toll on some teachers’ wellbeing or professional relationships. For others it may be their friendships or marriages that take the strain.
So let’s not laugh off the inevitable summer holiday questions this autumn. Let’s tell them the truth: that we worked, we prepared, we worried and hopefully we had a little fun too.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).