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‘Teacher’s wellness is tokenised’ says Highland teacher who suffered the consequences of extreme burnout

By Annabelle Gauntlett

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The teacher endured immense pressure that led to extreme exhaustion.
The teacher endured immense pressure that led to extreme exhaustion.

A HIGHLAND teacher has spoken out about her belief that the wellbeing of those in the profession is merely “tokenised” by those in charge, leading to many in the profession burning out.

Trying to work to the best of their ability and under what they said was “added pressure for students to succeed” they said they had come to believe that meeting expectations and simply getting through the number of tasks expected to be completed each day was simply impossible.

“I woke up one morning last year and realised that I was living with chronic stress because I always had this feeling that I was never quite satisfied with what I was doing,” they said.

Getting into teaching originally because they had loved learning themselves and wanted to pass that on they said: “I don’t think until you’ve lived the experience that you can really comprehend how exhausting it is and how overwhelming it can be, especially for new teachers.

“It kind of crept up on me. Because I have quite a strong work ethic, I just kept on getting up and going into work and then it would get to the point where it was a real ordeal trying to get ready for work. Then when I’d come back, all I would want to do is sleep.”

Social life, they said, went by the wayside as tiredness took over, along with a feeling of simply “not being interested in life anymore”.

They said: “I think it is normalised in the teaching profession and they just appreciate that the job is exhausting, but I think that there is an expiry date to it as you can only live like that for so long until you reach a point where you just can’t do it any more.”

Their professional experience, they said, was one of “chasing your tail the whole time”, saying every day they were “engulfed” with work, not just teaching in class but admin, marking, parent consultations, staff meetings and more.

They said they have seen student teachers “have a really hard time” when “the enormity of the job suddenly hits them” and added: “With a lot of jobs I had before teaching, there was time to repair yourself after an exhausting week, but teaching is just relentless and goes on and on.”

The teacher said they have also witnessed colleagues suffering.

They said: “Personally, I have seen teachers' quality of life be really compromised by their job. Teachers often talk about how the first week or two of any holiday is just spent wanting to sleep and not socialise or leave the house.”

Long-term sick leave is high amongst teachers, with 67.5 percent of teachers taking time off due to sickness during 2021-2022,- according to The Kay Leaders - 13 percent higher than in 2016-2017.

“Although I have only seen a few people actually go off on long-term sickness, in my experience teachers are often overworked, physically ill with tiredness and lowered immune systems, and feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated,” the teacher said.

They themselves were eventually forced to take time away from the job.

They said: “My managers were very supportive but unfortunately the job itself is very exhausting. The Working Time Agreement of teachers stipulates hours spent in contact time, Continuing Professional Development and meetings, but that doesn't change the fact that you can legally have 27 hours of contact time per week with classes of 30.

“The problem is bigger than the managers.”

‘Teacher’s wellness is tokenised’ says Highland teacher who suffered the consequences of extreme burnout.
‘Teacher’s wellness is tokenised’ says Highland teacher who suffered the consequences of extreme burnout.

Talking about the teachers strikes that took place last year, they added: “After that we got this fabulous pay rise, but the actual conditions of teaching weren’t changed - more money was just thrown at the problem.

“I feel it would have been a lot more productive if we had talked about contact time and what teachers are actually being asked to do, as well as the fact that there aren’t enough teachers, so the work is condensed and put on to the teachers that are already in the profession.

“I think that should have been the conversation, rather than how much we’re paid.”

Mike Corbett, Scotland National Official with teaching union the NASUWT, said: “Workload remains the biggest concern that teachers have about their jobs and is the leading driver of teachers choosing to leave the profession.

“Members report to us that the impact of school budget cuts and cuts to external services, as well as the ongoing effects of the pandemic and cost of living crisis, are driving workload to new highs as teachers are increasingly expected to deal with the social and emotional challenges pupils and their families face in the absence of other timely support. This is on top of the escalating levels of bureaucracy ushered in by reforms to the curriculum and qualifications system.

“The SNP pledged to tackle teacher workload by making a manifesto commitment in 2021 to cut class contact time for teachers by 90 minutes a week. However, three years on, little to no progress has been made on implementing this.

“Without action from the Scottish Government more experienced and prospective teachers will be lost to the profession due to burnout and children’s education will be the casualty.”

A Highland Council spokesperson added: “Staff wellbeing is a priority for the council and we have a range of support in place - covering wellbeing, managing stress in the workplace and professional support on health matters.

“We do not comment on staffing matters and individual staff should raise any concerns with their line manager, HR or their trade union.”

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