There’s still a huge stigma about admitting to mental health issues; indeed when I admitted to them in my most recent workplace, a church primary school, I was belittled for having depression in an email exchange between various parties.
That hurt me, as much as my prior treatment by them.
I’m not entirely sure why working in education makes so many teachers and pupils ill.
I think leadership in schools is generally callous, lacking compassion and I’d argue that many headteachers are sociopaths or even psychopaths, with tangible characteristics of each. I’m not the only who has been made poorly by school leaders and their actions.
There’s an idea in education that teachers can’t challenge headteachers and their views and actions, which might be okay in North Korea, but Britain in 2017?
No they need challenging.
And I and others have done, and paid a price.
But rather than get political about academies, which were set up by Blair lest we forget, I want to look at how a toxic workplace can make you ill and how you can recover.
Problem – solution.
Teaching is a hard job – five performances a day to a tough teenage audience – with a level of scrutiny and micromanagement that would see teachers downing chalk and taking to the streets in France, but here there’s been a slow and steady erosion of integrity and values so that teaching is a thoroughly unpleasant job, in schools where leaders are only concerned with Ofsted, finances and protecting their elite empire of classroom-dodging, paper-shuffling senior leadership teams.
Don’t get me wrong – I was one of those people in a previous school – but that place didn’t make me ill because the headteacher there, Mick Lincoln, was excellent. He protected and supported staff. Others though don’t.
You end up questioning your self-worth, developing anxieties, depression and become ill when those values that I saw exemplified daily for three years, go AWOL.
I now know, after learning the hard way, how to spot and avoid a toxic school, based on recent experiences.
The first sign you may be made ill is when you note the high staff turnover.
In my mistaken rush to believe in the grass is greener philosophy, I overlooked that the head of department, and two of her team, had resigned, along with disappearing acts across other departments.
I was looking at where they’d escaped to longingly, weeks into the job.
I got to a point where I deeply regretted moving jobs as mental health issues surfaced.
I had my Travelodge moment, which I’ve written about before here, along with therapy for trauma and a long period of absence.
The pressures of that school became unbearable – there was a culture of the head listening to whispers and over-reacting, particularly if that member of staff wasn’t a sycophant who posed some threat to them, as either being popular or successful.
The leader blamed others for his failings, publicly too, which made me want to stand up and shout at him.
If you were good at your job and / or liked by students, you were a marked man or woman.
In the past five years, I’ve seen so many excellent teachers bullied out of teaching, by bosses and systems and not just at that one school.
One in the past week too.
Workplaces, not just schools, make people ill.
I read recently that the church, the NHS and education are statistically the biggest perpetrators of workplace bullying – but I hear stories of other industries too.
I realised at 51 years of age that work is not for me, but being freelance and self-employed is my bag.
I retain autonomy, have no bosses and don’t have my day monitored and controlled by others.
Since going permanently self-employed in 2015, I have not been physically ill with minor ailments, but more importantly the black dog of depression and the cloak of anxiety have been cast away.
Workplaces made me mentally ill – and I really think it’s time for the powers that be look at reasons why this occurs, and employers are made aware and accountable for their negative impact on mental health.
My advice is, if possible, go self-employed and if not feasible, choose a boss and culture not the pay.
Money is great, but utterly pointless if you end up sinking into depression and anxiety whilst earning it.
How does your workplace care for you?
Is it like schools, who throw staff under metaphorical buses?
Are your bosses bad?
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