Teacher Mental Health
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28th February 2011
In the journey of a teacher, change is a constant travel companion.
In my last blog I wrote about the balance between demands and control in a teacher’s work. These are two of the six areas of work identified by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as key in the management of work stress.
Amongst the four others, teachers often cite change as a significant cause of stress. Change has now become endemic in teaching and the pressures causing it are considerable. For the last 20 years there has been much more enthusiasm amongst politicians to impose changes on schools as I outlined in my last blog when describing the demands placed on schools. However, the pressures for change have not all been external. A ‘culture’ of change has become a feature of school leadership and the profession as a whole. The ethos of school management is largely based around the ‘evaluate, plan, do’ cycle. The unwritten assumption being that after evaluation change must always follow. So, for example, if a school was evaluating the teaching of reading it would be inconceivable for them to make no changes. Something always must be changed.
The dangers of regular change, driven either from external sources or from within, are threefold.
Firstly, the pace of change means that nothing stays constant for long enough to properly evaluate whether it is working. For teachers, changes have come so quickly, so often and in so many areas that nobody could honestly be sure what has worked and what hasn’t. This can be a cause of frustration for teachers who want to make changes based on evidence.
Secondly, change not only creates hours of extra work for teachers, it often leaves them with strong feelings of dissatisfaction, if they believe the change is making things worse rather than better. The most effective changes are ones that the vast majority of teachers can sign up to. Changes imposed, against the professional judgement of teachers, are a well known cause of stress.
Finally, teachers report that change is badly managed in that is imposed over unrealistically short timescales often creating new tasks or duties without removing any of the existing ones. Change is therefore not always doing something differently, but doing something else on top of the existing demands.
So change, and the way it is managed, joins growing demands and shrinking control as significant causes of teacher stress.