Tags: Classroom Teacher | Continuing Professional Development | Headteacher

In the dark days of winter, some teachers find it more of a challenge to get through the day. But suggest counselling to a teacher and what’s their immediate reaction? Surprised – perhaps. Defensive – maybe. ‘I don’t need counselling!’

Teachers are used to having to ‘cope’ on a daily basis – they work in a challenging, if rewarding profession, where their own needs can come second to those of their pupils. Add to this the conspiracy of silence that can exist within some schools where teachers feel unable to voice their concerns for fear of being labelled ‘difficult’, and it is easy to see how a seemingly minor issue can get blown out of all proportion.

Speaking to a counsellor is a constructive way to tackle an issue, not an admission of failure. Putting the problem into words is a positive step to understanding it better. While counselling doesn’t provide ready made answers or a quick fix solution (which never works anyway) it can help individuals find the answers themselves.

Teacher Support Line

Teacher Support Line has been available for all teachers in England and Wales since September 1999. Since its launch, the service has been used by over 30,000 teachers, and many more have been able to access workplace counselling through employee assistance programmes provided by their employer or local authority. Evidence, surely, that most, if not all of us, have times in our lives when we need help getting our problems into perspective.

In a survey carried out by the Teacher Support Line, 77% of teachers said they believed that counselling has improved their personal insight and understanding, while 70% of teachers believed that counselling has been beneficial for exploring coping strategies and techniques for the workplace.

Recurring themes

Some of the key recurring themes that teachers are bringing to the Teacher Support Line include: stress and depression; conflict in the workplace; workload and change; loss of confidence.

As a spokesperson for the Teacher Support Line explained, seeking help is not the sign of a failing individual: providing access to help is not the sign of a failing school. Both acknowledge the importance of taking responsibility for our own health and that of our workplace.

If you feel that speaking to someone, possibly unknown to you, would help in easing any anxieties, don’t hesitate to call the Teacher Support Line, or any occupational counselling service that your local authority may have provided.

There is certainly a need for further research into counselling in the workplace across all sectors. The potential impact of counselling is especially significant in the education sector, where absent teachers must be replaced without loss of cover and schools and local authorities do not have the option to let work lie unattended.

Taking basic steps

While there is a steadily developing body of academic literature into the causes, levels and results of stress among teachers, there is little research carried out into interventions intended to tackle the problem or the more recent legal requirements on employers to “forsee” levels of stress. But there are basic steps that all teachers and schools can take to make sure that workplace counselling is viewed as a useful tool in improving job satisfaction:

  • Create forums for the discussion of work-related problems with a focus on developing solutions.
  • Provide the channel to a counsellor, whether that be on-site, within the area, or a national support service such as the Teacher Support Line.
  • Create a culture of nurturing within the school community. This can be effectively led by leadership teams, perhaps through the development of buddying systems where a small number of teachers are grouped with the purpose of being particularly mindful of each others’ wellbeing.
  • Encourage the understanding, that use of workplace counselling is a constructive, if not essential, dimension of the job.

Workplace counselling can not only help to minimise the sources of stress in the profession, but can improve resilience to pressure from both work and home life. More specifically, the Teacher Support Line is playing an important role in assisting teachers who are experiencing problems to gain perspective and talk through their concerns with counsellors who have education expertise. Early intervention can often mean the difference between remaining in the profession or leaving, between thriving and enjoying the job, or merely ‘coping’. That has to be a positive thing.

For further information visit www.teachersupport.info For the Teacher Support Line in England call 0800 0562 561 For the Teacher Support Line Cymru call 0800 0855 088 (24-hour, confidential service).

This article first appeared in – Sep 2003

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