Why do teachers quit…?
At the age of twenty one, six months into my first teaching post and fresh out of university I had what can only be described as a nervous breakdown (…or what @brenebrown would graciously call a “spiritual awakening”).
I was stressed, overworked, intensely sleep deprived and, more than anything, completely crippling under the relentless and unachievable demands for perfection in an OFSTED “special measures” school. I had failed…for the first time ever, I had completely failed at something. And it caused me to question everything about myself.
Now, on reflection this was the best thing that ever happened to me and I am forever grateful for all that I have learned from this experience; I am a stronger person for it. However, I am not alone in my story. I am far from alone in fact. In 2015, an ATL survey found that almost three-quarters (73%) of trainee and newly qualified teachers in the UK considered leaving the profession, with 76% blaming heavy workloads. Additionally, 67% of teachers state that their jobs have adversely impacted their mental or physical health.
I was lucky to receive a lot of support and exactly the help that I needed to continue in the teaching profession…but how many teachers don’t? How many teachers are we currently losing from the profession to stress, anxiety and other mental or physical health issues? And worse still, how many are suffering in silence?
Student wellbeing is fundamental to educational success, but to ensure student wellbeing, teachers need to keep their wellbeing in check too. Many schools find ways to do this fantastically, but many schools are in need of a cultural shift to put teacher, and student, wellbeing in the limelight.
Here are 3 ways to start:
1. No-one wants an invisible mars bar.
The morning after my first ever parent-teacher conference, gathered in the staff room for briefing, the deputy principal announced the nominations for the “invisible Mars bar”…a nominal award for the teacher who was the last to leave the building after the parent-teacher conference the evening before. The teacher who won had left the building at 9.45pm. And this was celebrated…
In the teaching profession we are seriously guilty of celebrating “heroes” who sacrifice everything for their class/students/colleagues/school etc. We need to stop accepting the invisible Mars bar!
2. Celebrate the success of your staff like you would your students.
Rita Pierson’s TED talk “Every kid needs a champion” expresses beautifully the importance of relationships, of being a ‘champion’ for your students and celebrating the smallest of successes. So what about our teachers? How can we recognise and value their contributions like we would our students?
“Teachers don’t make a lot of money. They are usually not deemed worthy of news coverage unless there is a scandal or a strike. Most of the time, their major accomplishments are shared only with colleagues and family members and not the media. The celebration is often cut short by some catastrophe the next day. Yet, in spite of the highs and lows, I cannot think of another profession that brings both joy and challenge on a daily basis”.
Take time to celebrate teachers, to whole-heartedly acknowledge their worth and recognise their efforts; big or small.
In our switched on, ultra-connected, assiduous world of messages, reminders, lists, deadlines, texts, tweets and snapchats…mindfulness meditation is the antidote; it is the “off switch”. As teachers, we are in a constant state of over-engagement; reading, marking, emailing, planning, reflecting, teaching, marking, meeting, collaborating, grading and of course, more marking. In a job where the average teacher works a 10hour day, 6 days a week, we are in desperate need of some down time.
Take a deep breath and sit in the present moment.
In an attempt to battle the rising number of students suffering from stress and other mental health issues, my school has implemented a daily mindfulness meditation programme, SmilingMind. But, the next step is the teachers, because Mindfulness is proven to not only reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, but to promote more divergent thinking, to improve our focus, to encourage creativity and to improve our ability to form relationships.
“Don’t miss out on being present and enjoying what you have worked hard for.” @harrietminter
Katie Wellbrook is currently the MYP Co-ordinator at Suzhou Singapore International School. She has worked in education for 6 years and is passionate about innovative teaching, creative thinking and lifelong learning.