Figures recently emerged showing collectively teachers in Suffolk took over 10,000 days off the in past 12 months because of stress. This equates to around 50 school years and has got many people asking just how stressful a teaching job is.
Overall 190 teachers were forced to take time out of school because of depression, anxiety or stress. The union leaders' response to this fact was that it was unsurprising. Graham White, Suffolk's Division Secretary for the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: "I think that it is clear that teaching is an extremely stressful job and the figures do not surprise me. "I know of teachers who are working double the amount of hours they are contracted to."
Suffolk County Council was keen to stress that there are resources available for those teachers in the region who are feeling stressed "through wellbeing programmes, professional associations and HR departments".
Staff in schools were also said to be given access to a phoneline which they can call for support if things are getting on top of them. However, there are many who believe the number of teachers taking time off due to stress will not fall until the root causes within the classroom are dealt with.
Mr White said: "These figures are rising and teachers are becoming more and more stressed but this isn't a criticism of the school, it is the nature of the job. "Stress is caused by the threat of Ofsted inspections, the amount of paperwork required, the pressure of league tables, exams and attaining certain levels."
Chris Lines, National President of NASUWT, also said the current setting of targets was having a detrimental effect on teachers' mental health, however warned those in Suffolk have been placed under a particular amount of stress due to school reorganisations. He also pointed towards problems with pupil behaviour, which was one of the main points raised by a veteran teacher writing for the East Anglia Daily Times.
Simon Warr said in the 1980s, when he began working in the profession, young people had more respect for teachers simply because of their position of authority. It is this respect that he said was missing from the classroom now. He said the lack of discipline was no doubt "scaring off" graduates from the profession and making existing teachers "not want to come into work in the morning".
A report into the issue, commissioned by NASUWT, however, identified a number of causes far more wide ranging than any of those that were suggested following the release of the recent figures. The list included work pressure, conflicting accounts of what is expected of them, unsupportive working environments and bad school management, as well as all of those mentioned above. These factors were said to diminish job performance, productivity, enthusiasm and commitment, which in turn led to more teachers taking days off and withdrawing from extracurricular activities, both of which had a detrimental effect on pupils.
To combat the problems with stress it recommended reducing the amount of paperwork that accompanies tracking and assessing pupils' progress. It said recognition must be given to the non-academic role education professionals are expected to perform, as well as their teaching duties.
The report also noted the "urgent need for improved behaviour management, particularly within current new teacher training".
It also said that schools must offer support to those teachers who are feeling the effects of stress, through confidential in house services. However, it also suggested that it should be recognised certain levels of stress come as part of the teaching job." Schools must be enabled to create a culture in which there is a comfortable recognition that stress may be a useful and natural part of living. As a corollary, the stigma of psychological disorder and mental illness must the challenged in school," it said.
While some of these solutions must be enacted from above, teachers can take the information onboard and allow it to influence how they control their stress levels in the classroom. The main point is knowing how to maintain order among pupils, and understanding how to deal with bad behaviour both publically and privately.
However, the NASUWT report also suggested keeping stress levels down is related to teachers' self image. It said professional self-esteem was being "eroded" because of changes to teacher practice and a greater emphasis being placed on academic achievements. While teachers can do little about these policies from the classroom, they can have the self-awareness which allows them to identify signs of undue stress in what can be an unquestionably stressful job.