Across the UK, teachers have started to leave the profession faster than their replacements are being trained. The resultant drain of qualified and capable teachers from our education system has left those who remain overworked, under-funded, and under-supported. As things stand, our education system is 30,000 teachers understaffed and struggling to fill the hole that has been left in our nation’s ability to teach its children. With pressure mounting and teacher wellbeing falling, fewer than half of new teachers say they are planning on staying in the classroom long term.
But what has caused this? Last year, the Teacher Wellbeing Index was published, seeking to highlight the conditions in which our teachers work. The picture it painted of our educators and the way we treat them is a bleak one. 74% of our teachers claim the stress from work is preventing them from switching off at home and finding a healthy work/life balance; with almost a third of teachers working over 50 hours a week. Meanwhile, 74% of teachers claim to not have enough guidance or support to do with mental health in the workplace and 65% of education professionals would not feel confident in talking to their employer about work-related mental health issues.
In the last two years alone, insomnia and diagnosed anxiety amongst teachers have jumped by almost 10%. Alcohol consumption and workplace bullying have also increased while the average amount of exercise our teachers are getting has dropped worryingly.
The numbers don’t lie. With teacher suicide rates on the rise and educational professionals turning to destructive behaviours like alcoholism to cope, we have to face an uncomfortable truth. We are killing our teachers. The men and women who not only helped prepare us for the world but who we also trust with the education and wellbeing of our children have now found themselves undervalued by a society they are instrumental in shaping.
The Teacher Wellbeing Index offers a comprehensive account of the problems our teachers face across almost 50 pages of data and analysis. However, when it comes to solving the problem, no one seems to be looking further than funnelling money at the issue coupled with mental health awareness in schools. Whilst these are both steps forward to help alleviate some of our teachers’ burdens; these fixes only focus on the symptoms of the problem, ignoring the underlying causes behind them.
If we are to truly help our teachers, financing and supporting them properly would be of great benefit to their wellbeing, but first we must address the underlying problems. The largest of these is a problem with the way we perceive and treat our education professionals as a society.
The phrase “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach” may have been coined by an anti-Semite and a strong opposer of vaccinations but for some reason that hasn’t stopped us from taking it seriously. The prevailing opinion in society is that teaching is a ‘safe option’. Days that seem to end at 3 and longer holidays are the cause of envy for many office workers across the country, but the reality is that, after lesson planning, marking, and other teaching duties have been attended to, many teachers find themselves worked to the bone on any given week for little reward.
If we’re going to improve our education system, it’s important we not only address these issues but also look to examples of strong education systems to build upon. Finland has one such system that we could stand to learn from.
Funding, not putting emphasis on standardised tests, and a belief in holistic education are often championed as the reason Finland stands so high on global education rankings. But above all, a culture whereby teachers are highly qualified, highly paid, and highly respected takes the stress and pressure of their teaching staff whilst helping them feel much more satisfied with their work. And when their work is shaping the minds of the future generation, teachers deserve to feel like the vital members of society they are.