Could it be that this feeling of overwhelm is a contributing factor as to why many teachers are leaving the teaching profession? In the United Kingdom alone, 10,000 teachers departed the profession between 2010 and 2015.1 For those who choose to stay, there is a rising trend of mental illness. Brad Joyce, from the Teacher’s Health Fund, states that, ‘There has been a doubling of demand in mental health services over the past five years, among younger members in the 24 to 29 age group’.2
In the teaching profession, there is also a growing trend of reliance on some sort of medication or stimulant to ‘get through the day’. Research by the NASUWT union has found that ‘ten per cent of teachers have been prescribed anti-depressants because of the stress of the job.’3
Overwhelm: Taking a Broader and ‘Deeper’ Look
So, what is overwhelm? … Is it only that sinking feeling of, ‘How am I ever going to be able to manage to get this done?’ and, ‘Where will I find the time?’ – OR – Is there more underlying overwhelm and why we go into it?
Many teachers would say that feeling overwhelmed comes from trying to find ‘balance’ amongst commitments to work, family, friends and community, and with all this, it seems that teachers are finding it difficult to carve out a few moments in their busy schedules for themselves; space to stop, reflect and recharge their batteries. This approach seems to make teachers feel that they are not equipped with what it takes to maintain their dedication and commitment to their chosen profession, without the toll of ill-health and stress.
However – Is there another way?
Is there another understanding and approach one could take on this topic?
What if within every teacher is the ability to take a step back from all that’s being asked of them, and to reconfirm within themselves the valuable and important contribution they are making to the lives of students in their care?
A ‘Deeper’ Look
Teachers know all too well that teaching is about more than delivering the curriculum, and a teacher’s day is made up of many moments of interacting with students that are beyond this. Their daily interactions consist of not only relating with the kids - forming, building and developing relationships - within this there is a more personal flavour in which they are receiving insights to a child’s emotions, strengths and weaknesses, their triggers in bad situations - one could say it is building a form of intimacy. Whether these are displayed overtly or covertly, there are situations playing out in schools such as; students who have no lunch, shoe laces that need tying, a sick child whose parents have sent them to school because they have to work, as well as children who have been through family break ups or illness in the family. All of these situations are not judgements, however they are real, they are there, they add to a teacher’s job description, and therefore in these situations alone, the teacher's ‘workload’ has doubled. Occupational Therapist, Victoria Prooday, who works with children every day, states that, ‘Our children are in a devastating emotional state!’4
You only need to spend one normal day in a classroom to see that increasingly students are coming into the classroom from home backgrounds that are less than supportive, with busy parents and an over-reliance of using screens as a way of raising children. When parents are involved with drugs, alcohol abuse, pornography or violence in the family, children are presenting with a sense of having given up and being disconnected or acting out with aggressive behaviours, as a way of dealing with the stress and trauma around them.
In the push to meet curriculum and assessment demands, the space to connect to and support these students in each and every moment throughout their day is not easily found. The opportunity for deep connection between students and teachers, meeting each other on a real and personal level, is therefore hard to maintain, and in many cases is being eroded.
What if the issue at hand is that we are not offering teachers the support, correct training and foundation to truly address and know how to appropriately handle all of this?
The Beginning of A Way Forward
A large part of a teacher’s daily life is to offer care to those around them. Teachers must have a consistent and supportive foundation of self-care, as this is what truly supports a teacher to be able to offer this care to others, without compromising their own health and wellbeing.
Small steps taken daily to tend to themselves, moments to ask
"How am I going?",
"What do I see and feel is really going on here?’" and
"How can I support myself?"
may just be part of the antidote to that sinking feeling of overwhelm.
By observing, relating, acknowledging and bringing understanding to the undercurrents that are at play for children in the classroom, for staff and parents, and in the school system as a whole, teachers are better equipped to diffuse the behaviours or expectations they are observing and to return to the true purpose of their day-to-day interactions.