Inevitable sacrifice, or dangerous politics?

Meet Katie*

Katie always wanted to be a teacher. At 22, she finished her PGCE and threw herself into her new career. The NQT year was tough – but that was ok, she didn’t have a mortgage at the time, or any kids of her own to take care of.

Her 21 weekly lessons each took her an hour to plan, and then there were the subject meetings, whole staff briefings, year team meetings, NQT training sessions, mentor feedback – and then, the marking.

It’s ok, she told herself. It will get easier.

Then Ofsted came. That’s when the anxiety started. It was mild at first. She was terrified of letting her team down, her whole school, even. She knew she could pull off a good lesson, but if they came during her year 9 class she knew it would be a disaster. It would destroy her colleague’s confidence in her; and her own.

Ofsted came and went, and she survived. But she wasn’t the same Katie as she was before. She had lost her shine, and felt somehow smaller, and less in control of her life. She tried to ignore this feeling and threw herself into her work, determined to keep up the perception that she was ‘fine’, a solid ‘good teacher’.

The school had been downgraded to ‘requires improvement.’ Everyone knew who had been observed, and their lesson outcomes. Although she had passed her observations, she became increasingly aware of a shift in the atmosphere. Katie started to avoid the staffroom completely, eating lunch alone in her classroom.

As the months rolled on she became increasingly lonely and withdrawn. When a friend in another school told her about a Head of Department role starting the following term, she decided to go for it. It took a huge amount of courage, but she felt certain that working with her friend would give her the moral support she needed, and this school seemed so much more friendly.

Everything seemed rosy in her new role for a while, however it soon became apparent that her face didn’t quite fit. After a year of relentless pressure, being texted out of hours about schemes of work that needed rewriting and additional responsibilities being placed upon her; things came to a head.

She had a panic attack in school.

Her GP diagnosed her with anxiety and depression, prescribed citalopram and signed her off for 3 months. She searched for another role. She would demote herself, relinquish her additional responsibilities and ‘just be a teacher.’

Fast forward 5 years, and Katie is at her third school. She’s a proud mum of 2 gorgeous little boys, and her full time salary covers her half of the mortgage and car repayments. She is missing out on her boys growing up could she go part time? Charlie still won’t forgive her for missing his Sport’s Day 2 years in a row.

She knows deep down that part time hours won’t fix things. Her 2 closest colleagues tell her not to bother; they say it’s a trap and they end up working more or less full time anyway. Besides, her family would struggle financially if she went part time.

Katie is starting to recognise those feelings of anxiety again. She noticed the looks of disapproval from senior management when excused herself from a meeting that had overrun last week, and since home learning started it seems that everyone is on email until 11pm, midnight even.

Katie is exhausted. Another year of teaching, even tougher than the last, has taken its toll. Post lockdown, everyone seems a bit more on edge, with panic-stricken faces as the pressure on senior management forces the ‘work harder, help the children to catch up’ rhetoric. Everything feels even more frantic, more desperate. Is this the ‘new normal’?

One evening, while Katie was putting her youngest son, Oscar, to bed; she snapped at him when he asked for another story. She tried to read faster, skipping out some parts. She could feel her heart racing – that familiar feeling of dread rising through her. She had so much to do still! Senior management had asked them to redo all of their target setting by the end of the week, and she still had planning to do. Come on, Oscar – for goodness sake! Just go to sleep…

As she closed his bedroom door, Katie remembered that she still had some of her anti-anxiety medication left in her bedroom drawer. Should she take it?

When Katie finally opened her laptop again at 8.45pm, a message flashed up on her screen. WELLBEING: CANCELLED.

The next inset session for staff was supposed to focus on staff wellbeing. But it had been cancelled, in favour of catch-up curriculum planning.

Without even opening the email, Katie slowly closed the lid on her laptop. Something inside her snapped. She couldn’t do this any more.

That night, while scrolling on her phone in search of answers, Katie stumbled across an advertisement for a coaching programme for teachers. It looked different to the others she had seen. There was no mention of career development, retraining or trying to squeeze in yet another wellness activity to combat the stresses of teaching.

The coach was an ex-teacher and mum of 3 who had left teaching after ten years, and had built a successful business for herself doing something she loved. She checked out her credentials to make sure it wasn’t a dodgy pyramid scheme, or multi-level marketing company. Satisfied, she reached out and booked a call with Ellie.

Within an hour of chatting with Ellie, all of the limiting beliefs she had held about herself, and how she could make a living started to fall away. She felt excited, empowered and had a new sense of direction for herself.

That’s when she decided. It was time . . .

*Katie is a fictional character, based on real-life events.

Hi, I’m Ellie

Hi! I’m Ellie, and I help teachers plan their ‘exit strategy.’ We do this together, using a powerful combination of coaching, mindset work and strategic planning to help them create a business that will give them joy, financial rewards and a great sense of fulfilment.

While I feel immense purpose in what I do, I can never shift the sadness I feel when yet another teacher comes to me telling me they are on antidepressants, that they feel trapped in a vicious 80 hour-a-week cycle and that they are powerless to affect any change.

In a world where the words wellbeing, be kind and it’s ok not to be ok are now so ubiquitous, it’s hard to understand how we’ve reached such a crisis when it comes to taking care of our teachers and pupils. It can only be a matter of time before the system collapses under the strain, taking it’s people with it.

If Katie’s story resonates with you, I can help.

Book a free call with Ellie.