Why you should ignore negative headlines

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
Julian Stanley, CEO, Education Support Partnership

No matter what the societal problem, teachers always seem to get the blame. Julian Stanley looks at how we can avoid letting this negativity get to us

Teachers are leaving the profession at the highest rate since records began, with one in three teachers quitting within their first five years.

This was the shocking headline to a BBC Inside Out report that I was very glad to be asked to take part in earlier this month. An investigation by the programme found that those leaving the profession say teaching is affecting their physical and mental health.

I was delighted that our national broadcaster covered this issue. I was particularly pleased that they reported on the stress teachers are facing from a teacher’s point of view, rather than – as is often the case – everyone else’s viewpoint.

For where teaching is concerned, everyone thinks they’re an expert, and over the years education in general – and schools and teachers in particular – have become something of a punchbag for people who seem to need someone to blame for whatever it is they are complaining about at any given time.

Teachers are hugely dedicated and their commitment is massive, yet often you wouldn’t know this from the way some newspapers and broadcasters report about education, blaming teachers for everything that’s wrong in our society.

Teachers are often expected to be surrogate parents, to right all the wrongs in our world. Even those who praise teachers and recognise their hard work don’t always appreciate just how exhausting it can be to carry this huge weight of expectation. With such a mixed media message and frequently little nuance, it is no wonder that mental health is increasingly an issue for teachers.

Our own research into those teachers who call our helpline bears out what the Inside Out programme reported. In the last year we saw a 35 per cent increase in calls to our helpline, which equates to about 9,000 cases a year.

That’s about 125 to 150 calls a week that our counsellors receive from teachers struggling with, to name but a few, parental issues, behaviour problems, the frequent pace of change in education, and the nature of the environment in which they are working, including the culture and the volume of work they are asked on to take on.

And in our recent workforce survey, 75 per cent of those teachers who responded said they had faced physical and mental health issues over the last two years because of their work.

A lot of them want to be heard and listened to and don’t feel they have got anybody in the school where they are working to whom they can express themselves without fear of negative repercussions (especially in terms of performance management or threats of capability proceedings).

Holidays in education is another thorny issue. “What about the long holidays?” a reporter on BBC Look North once asked me. “Doesn’t that make up for all the stress?”

Well as most of you know, the long holidays argument has always been a bit of a myth. Most teachers work during their holidays – it’s an ideal time to catch up with work or work-related items. Many secondary teachers return from holidays early to help students with their exam results and will, like students and parents, probably spend some of their holiday worrying about these.

Ultimately, what we need to remember is that with nine out of 10 schools judged to be good or outstanding by Ofsted, teachers are clearly doing a good job and often in very trying circumstances. Yet this tends to go unreported in some elements of the mainstream media in favour of articles about tough classrooms and behavioural problems.

So, if all this negativity gets you down sometimes – and you wouldn’t be human if it didn’t – what can you? Well don’t blame the media for being the way it is. You may as well try to blame the weather. It is important, like the serenity prayer, to accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, and gradually acquire the wisdom to know the difference.

You could do as some actors do and ignore all bad reviews. What you don’t see can’t hurt you.

And there’s comfort in colleagues – sharing bad press or a negative article with others in the staffroom is a good way to cope. It is a great bonding exercise and liberating when you decide that you will only accept the judgement of those who really understand education, schools and teaching.

Psychologists say that it is always easier to say something negative about someone/something than something positive. This is why gossip only really has currency if it’s bad news – a bad press always sells better than a good one.

So while elements of the press may attack the profession regularly for all of society’s ills – real and imagined – remember they aren’t really attacking you so much as trying to sell newspapers. As you will know, for all the press reports of anarchy in the UK and education on the verge of collapse, most schools, most classrooms and most students are impeccably behaved, well mannered and enjoy learning.

But who – apart from SecEd of course – would ever write a news story about that?

  • Julian Stanley is the CEO of the Education Support Partnership.

Further reading

For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit
www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk


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