Stress is a four-letter word

Having read the news today that the chief of OFSTED, Sir Michael Wilshaw, believes that teachers don’t know the meaning of the word stress, I find myself speechless. I’m not angry, though I might once have been, because I have become resigned to the idea that so many people outside of the occupation have no real idea of what it’s like. We all went to school, so we all think we can, in some way, comment on what it must be like to be a teacher. I have friends who “think about teaching” whenever they are lost for where to go next. I have friends who tell me “yeah, but you work at a comprehensive in Surrey” – as if that means it must be easy. I get it. I don’t understand it – just like I didn’t understand the GP who, after signing me off for six months with chronic stress, anxiety and depression said “I often think of being a teacher just for the summer holidays”. But I get it. Teaching must be lovely. You finish work at 3.30, and you get 13 weeks off a year – utter bliss.

Wilshaw tells us that teachers can’t understand stress like his unemployed father did. (We have a regular job after all.) That we can’t understand how it was when he started teaching – when things were so much worse (I wonder if they could still hit the kids back then?). It doesn’t seem to matter to him that teaching has the third highest amount of stress-related sick leave. We just have it easy.

I am a good teacher. In my years of teaching, I have progressed through the ranks from a ‘mere classroom teacher’ to being the head, at one time, of two fantastic departments. I have trained other teachers, I have passed leadership training courses, and I have Chartered London Teacher Status. My behaviour management is excellent, and on more than one occasion, I have taken exam classes that blew their ‘target grades’ out of the water. The last GCSE cohort I taught, got 9 A*s in a class of 21. I am a good teacher.

So, how is it that I woke up one day and couldn’t go into school? That it was so bad that I had to take six months of work (even when I begged them to let me go back – but they told me I wasn’t ready?)? I’ll tell you. It’s because teaching is, by it’s nature, a stressful job. Kids are unpredictable and unpleasant on occasion. Other teachers more so. If you work with difficult adults, then you only come half way to understanding difficult teenagers. Teenagers don’t reason, they don’t believe in politeness, they don’t worry that if they treat you badly they might look bad. Teenagers are not adults.

The problem, if you ask me, isn’t that teachers don’t know that they’ve got it good, but that people who used to be teachers (Ofsted inspectors, and Leadership in schools) forget what it’s like for the little guy. We are the front line. The victims sent OTT – while they sit back in their offices and think up new, and ridiculous, ways to get children to be ‘more involved in their learning’. “Be gentle with them” they say, because everyone knows how hard it is to be a teenager. Yes, but not as hard as it is to sort a teenager out once they’ve been pandered to all their lives. “He says he’s sorry” they say, but only because really they are far too nervous to tell the child off further, in case said child ‘loses their temper’.

Here’s a way to improve grades and make a better generation for the future (and it doesn’t involve making exams easier)- put your teachers first… if you can do that, then the fantastic ‘teaching and learning’ will naturally follow.

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