Are We Just Being Soft?

There’s a bit of a backlash against the teaching strikes going on at the moment. Not that bashing teachers is anything new, there are regular media updates on how awful teachers all are, and I constantly see posters on TES Forums kicking teachers when they are down.

In particular, I want to address the idea that some people have that a teacher who is being targeted for bullying and has developed mental health issues as a result is just soft and not up to the job. It is shockingly usually other teachers that hold this view, teachers who’ve never had a problem and so are wholly unsympathetic.

Firstly, I think it’s symptomatic of the bullying culture we have in education that teachers turn against each other like this. It’s every teacher for themselves, and some teachers try to make themselves look good by distancing themselves from a struggling teacher. They distance themselves from them by joining in with the bullying as well.

The view is usually that a teacher off with stress is either too pathetic to do the job, or is utterly incompetent and can’t handle being told they are incompetent. They think that getting a sick note from your GP is a cop out and that they have chosen to do it as part of a plan to get away with not doing the work, or cover up the fact that they are rubbish.

Stress is a serious mental illness which stops people from functioning properly in a lot of aspects, including work.

Regarding stress as not being a real illness is part of the stigma that people with mental health issues battle every day. There are scores of campaigns and support groups aimed at correcting this and helping those suffering this discrimination. Perpetuating this will not only contribute further to someone’s mental illness, but is also completely contradictory to the values we try to teach students about respect and supporting each other.

GPs are health professionals and don’t just write people off work in order to do them a favour, they issue sick notes because someone is sick.

To suggest that GPs regularly contribute to a teacher’s manipulative plan to get away with doing no work undermines GPs. I think it also is a typical attitude of SMT whereby they presume everyone else has, or should have, the same values as them. I live for my job, and so should all teachers. I am manipulative, and so I suspect everyone else is being manipulative too.

Also, if these teachers who are turning on their struggling peers think they are so untouchable, they should beware. Bullying happens randomly and can happen to anyone in teaching – even if you have done nothing wrong, evidence against you can be easily manufactured. Even if you are an outstanding teacher every day of your life, you might be too expensive, or too near to retirement, and you might be targeted in order to replace you with a cheap NQT.

No, we’re not just being soft. These are genuine issues within education. Managers and government are trying to avoid dealing with such a big problem by downplaying it and turning the tables, and it is not just unsympathetic, but completely discriminatory and a terrible example to the students.

I maintain that the only way to ‘fix’ education is to properly fix this issue.


Bamber said...

Hello, just popped over from the Telegraph forum. Thank you for this post. Lots of food for thought here.

I've frequently seen comments online about teachers being 'soft' and I think they say much more about the people making them. Surely we want kind and sensitive people to teach our children? I do, anyway. My own family (I come from a long line of teachers) has suffered greatly from both bullying and inherent mental illness. Speaking for myself, I think my condition (bipolar disorder), if properly controlled, makes me a more empathic and thoughtful person than otherwise. However, there is no way I'd stand up to any sort of bullying from seniors or colleagues. Or children! Another expensively-trained, dedicated and conscientious teacher bites the dust. Cheers and good luck.

The Edudicator said...

Hello, thanks for the nice comments! I see that argument a lot - do you want a barking sergeant major or a thoughtful nurturing carer to teach your kids? I think most parents would want the latter.

I try not to link the two to be honest - bullying is bullying, no matter what your temperament and ability to 'withstand' it. Yes, your skin has to be thick in teaching, but no one should have to put up with workplace bullying and it's not part of the job. Any job.

Bamber said...

You're quite right, of course. But the bullies tend to define 'bullying' in their own way. And they increasingly seem to rule the world!

Best wishes,

Richard said...

When I developed depression this is exactly the attitude i got from 2 HT and DHT plus SIP. "You can't have a mental disorder if you are to teach". This really colours my view of HT/DHT/SIP?LA Inspectors. They failed in a duty of care but only the children count. They threatened competency and, of course, as a depressive, I couldn't handle that.
I wouldn't trust an educational manager at all. Totally unscrupulous and devious. And they're in charge of the education of children?

Squirrel said...

I came over from TES, I think, about workplace bullying.
This is something I encountered as an NQT but didn't recognise/couldn't believe until three other NQTs left, one of whom was a former lawyer and two of whom left after one term in the school. Oh, and the new Deputy Head left after two terms ... I started to believe it might not be me.
A real problem is that all 'clashes of personality' 'differences of management style' etc. are subjective and by the time I realised that what was happening was unfair I also knew that my performance had become poor and that many of the criticisms had grounds ... therefore found that I couldn't really say anything about the unreasonable demands and expectations because I wasn't meeting what I felt were satisfactory demands.
I big problem is that one strike and a teacher can be out, for life, if you get 'incapability procedures' you can lose your much loved career entirely without any second chance in a different school or different role, or perhaps most significantly, a different senior management team.
I survived, with Union support, taught part time for a while and then moved abroad where I have small group teaching for 'English as a Native Language' and private students. I'm very happy with my groups but still do not know, confidently, whether I could handle full class full time teaching if I had the opportunity to try again.

The Edudicator said...

Thanks all of you for sharing your views.

@Bamber I agree managers have too much power over teachers which they regularly abuse.

@Richard I think they separate competency from mental illness a lot, rather than acknowledge that one is caused by the other and allow you time to recover. There's also a massive stigma with mental illness, it marks your card forever.

@Squirrel I was the same as an NQT, I had no idea what was happening to me and by the time I did, it was too late. And yes, one small incident and your career is over. For me the only way was to change careers. I'd be too frightened to ever teach again, frightened of having my life ruined and of losing my mental health again.

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