The principal’s words were something I trusted, as I could not see in me what he saw in me. I graduated from university and doing particularly well in my school practicums I felt enthusiastic about working. When I went out to the big world of teaching, I soon learnt that university had taught me the knowledge but that there were many situations that I had to learn on the job.
I have worked in and currently visit many schools. From conversations with and observations of many teachers there is a lot of stress in the teaching profession today.
Teachers are dealing with quite a bit of pressure to meet deadlines and to complete the increased workload and administrative side of the job. Schools are run from an outcome and curriculum-based drive to meet the standards rather than being about the children’s well-being first. Teachers are feeling like they are always against the clock and there is little time to truly interact with the children or care for themselves at work.
Comments and conversations from teachers in passing or around the staff table that have caught my attention and have highlighted just how exhausted, unwell, given up, devitalized teachers are and reflect how teachers feel with such things as: being thankful it’s Friday, looking forward to getting pregnant so they can go on maternity leave, chilling out at home with a glass of wine or two each night or making real jokes about needing something to get them through the day as a ‘pick me up’- that chocolate just won’t cut it, considering looking for another job, indulging in really unhealthy choice foods that act as a sugar boost to combat the exhaustion, only having enough energy to ‘veg’ on the couch for a couple of hours and not cook dinner or prepare a decent lunch for themselves, and complaining about overwork and overwhelm.
These words from teachers are further reflected in the rates of illness, the amount of teachers who leave the profession yearly, mental health statistics, teacher outbursts or poor choice of dealing with situations or students and early retirement rates.
The 2015 Education Health Sector, ‘survey uncovers an ‘epidemic’ of mental health issues as 84% of those working in education admit to suffering problems, with workload to blame in 81% of cases. The results also suggest mental health issues are at risk of being a closely guarded secret as only one quarter of those affected discussed their problems with line managers. ‘Julian Stanley, CEO of the Education Support Partnership explains: “Our survey suggests that not only are mental health problems continuing to be a worrying trend for the sector, there is also a fear preventing people from speaking out or seeking appropriate help when they need it ...’1
‘Research carried out in 2014 by Education Support Partnership found that pupil behaviour had worsened during the previous five years, according to teachers. The YouGov poll of 481 primary and 321 secondary school teachers revealed over half (53%) of primary school teachers said they had seen worsening behaviour, compared with only 46% of secondary school teachers. The poll also highlighted the impact poor student behaviour has on teacher wellbeing:
- Nearly two thirds (62%) of primary school teachers said that poor behaviour had resulted in stress, anxiety or depression.
- Over a third (37%) of primary school teachers said they had thought about leaving the profession as a result of behaviour problems.
- … (38%) teachers complained that behaviour was preventing them from teaching effectively.’ 2
Another article shares that, ‘In a profession where graduates head out into the world optimistic about nurturing children and bringing about change, it seems reality hits hard and fast. Statistics show that early career teachers are leaving in droves, with close to 40% exiting from the profession within the first year of their teaching career, a number that has tripled in the last 6 years.’ 4
So as you can imagine, seeing and feeling the passion teachers enter the profession with and hearing teachers appreciate themselves and what they bring to teaching, not what they do or an activity they have just implemented or a student’s achievements . . . is very rare.
In the last two years I have been part of the Teachers Are Gold Project. The Teachers Are Gold project is a global project made up of and run by teachers from all over the world - where teachers support teachers. This project is all about teachers bringing everything back to appreciating the quality they bring to the profession and the lives of their many students.
"The 'Teachers Are Gold' project acknowledges and honours all teachers and educators for all that they do and the important role they play in our lives. 5
Being involved in and a part of this project has been a great support to me, and all of the teachers on the project. The support teachers can offer teachers is phenomenal. Before Teachers Are Gold, I knew that I was a ‘good teacher’ and that I ticked all the professional boxes. I wanted to be there for my students, but because I did not have an appreciation for myself or know the importance of and implement true self-care, I often got worn down, tired, exhausted, overwhelmed and felt grumpy at times. Before I began to self-care many years ago, I would deal with these feelings by using coffee to perk me up and override the exhaustion, drinking alcohol on the weekends to ‘wind down’ with friends and overeating foods that were not good for my body as a way to dull the tension I felt. I literally had no true self-care and no understanding or appreciation of me, and what I brought to the profession. The system, me giving all of me to the system and the children, was slowly taking its toll and making teaching less enjoyable. Teachers Are Gold supported me to bring my appreciation of me to my life and therefore to my job and day.
The Teachers Are Gold project has been a very practical and profound support to me as a teacher, as a mother and wife when I am at home, and in the way I relate to people. My attitude, my teaching and the way I connect with others has changed. It is because of the immense support from this project that there is now a positive difference in my daily teaching. I fully back the Teachers Are Gold project and am a living example of the support it offers – I am a teacher who has her passion re-ignited and I walk with that passion.
Today I can say that I am an amazing teacher and that I absolutely know the gift I bring to all the students I interact with everyday when I walk into the classroom or when I engage with colleagues. I have a confidence, awareness and appreciation in my capabilities and a knowing of what I have to offer as a teacher.
Teachers Are Gold has supported me to:
- Appreciate myself and therefore to recognise the importance of looking after myself.
- Not lose heart and support others to not lose heart in the teaching profession.
- Feel settled and confident in myself and am therefore able to deliver my teaching in a very solid way that supports students to fully engage in my lessons and learn in a supportive environment where they feel they belong.
- Understand and look after myself in a way that supports my well-being.
- Notice when another, whether that be a student or colleague needs some support and I have the capacity and energy to provide this. This is something that I can now see because I no longer feel or am caught in overwhelm of the job.
- Easily and enthusiastically handle the teaching workload while still holding a vitality and passion that I can offer to the students.
- Know and act on the importance of connecting to the students first and how this supports them to learn to the best of their ability.
- Have a real understanding of what supportive collaborative work is. It is this working understanding that I bring to every other teacher I interact with.
- Feel capable to handle classroom and behavioural issues in a way that supports the whole room. These issues are on a consistent steady rise in most schools. Before Teachers Are Gold, I would often react and get overwhelmed with behaviour issues.
- Be consistent, have more energy and take on more projects that support students
- Appreciate the amazing people that I work with. Today I am able to see the unique qualities and very needed aspect that each teacher offers and how we can best work together, learn from and utilise each other’s skills to best support the students and their learning.
- Know that I am responsible for me, how I look after myself, how I respond in my day, how I prepare and how I am with others.
I have now developed such a presence and solidness in my way of being that can not ever be taken from me but gives me the understanding and observation to caringly handle what the day may bring.
This is only one of many stories from the Teachers Are Gold team, who are literally going against the tide of what the educational statistics are representing.
Deep thanks to Michael Benhayon for voluntarily initiating The Teachers Are Gold project and responding to the call of the many exhausted, overwhelmed and struggling teachers he saw come through his treatment rooms. It takes an amazing person to do such a thing.
Thank you to Teachers Are Gold and all of the teachers on this project, who also work voluntarily and passionately - I am now a teacher who knows all of what she brings to this profession and others before I step into the schools I work in.