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1st March 2011

Clear roles, good relationships and appropriate support, will reduce stress levels.

The final three areas of working life identified in the HSE Management Standards for tackling stress are Roles, Relationships and Support.

Each of these has the potential to be a further source of stress in a teacher’s working life. One would think that teachers would be very clear about what their role was within a school.  The role of a teacher is pretty self-evident isn’t it? Well, although the core function of classroom teaching is pretty clear, the role of a teacher beyond that is often far from well defined.  In some schools, this is handled well by the head teacher but many leave a lot to be desired.  

In the ‘Crazy about Work’ survey I conducted in 2007, more than half of teachers expressing a view were uncertain about their roles and responsibilities. So for those teachers this lack of clarity will be a possible cause of stress.

The potential for poor relationships to be a cause of stress is probably even greater. Around a third of teachers report being subject to ‘workplace bullying’ and although the instigators of bullying are often perceived to be in positions of authority, this is not always the case.  Sophisticated and systematic peer bullying is relatively common within the employees of a school. Those interested in examining what constitutes bullying in the workplace may find a Workplace Bulling leaflet produced by Bradford NUT, in consultation with the HSE, helpful.

Poor workplace relationships would not normally be viewed as bullying, but they can still be a cause of unnecessary stress.  

Finally, any teacher can expect a reasonable level of support to do their job.  No employee should ever be required to take on a new responsibility without being offered appropriate training.  All employees also need an opportunity to refresh skills from time to time.  Employers should also provide additional support to meet the needs of employees with a disability. It seems too obvious to need mentioning, but just allowing appropriate rest breaks and flexibility of working to meet needs such as family illness should be a reasonable expectation.

It is ironic that, in the drive to improve standards in schools, the maintenance of good relationships and support systems is often neglected.  Where care is taken to value employees, motivation levels rise whilst absence and turnover both fall. It makes good sense to make sure good relationships are fostered, support systems are good and roles are clear.  In schools where this is done well, levels of stress are likely to be low.