• Adrian Bethune

How To Survive In Teaching

According to research in a new book, How To Survive in Teaching, 60% of the #teachers surveyed for would not recommend teaching to a close friend or relative. If you'd have asked me last year if I would be happy for my son, Eli (see photo below), to grow up to become a teacher, I would have said a resounding, "No!" But, this year things feel different.

Teaching in crisis

In mid-January, I attended the book launch of How To Survive In Teaching by Dr Emma Kell (@thosethatcan). Kell is a secondary English teacher with over 20 years' experience in the field. Her doctorate research focused on teacher wellbeing and the challenges of juggling parenthood with teaching (something I know I have jostled with since becoming a dad) and her new book looks at the current state of play in education in the UK, and what teachers can do to survive. Kell surveyed almost 4,000 teachers and her book has some pretty bleak statistics[1]:

· 41% would have been tearful at work at some stage.

· 42% would disagree with the statement ‘I am happy in my work’.

· 82% would say they experience anxiety directly related to the job.

· 54% would say they experience depression directly related to the job.

· Almost a third said they would not see themselves remaining in the profession for another 2 years.

A call to action

So, if this is the landscape for teachers, why on earth would I be happy for my son to head out into this uncertain and rocky terrain? Well, Emma’s book is one of hope but also one of action. She does not hide

the fact that teaching is in crisis but it is her chapter ‘When teachers survive – and flourish!’[2] that really got me feeling inspired. The points that really resonated with me were:

1. Bold Leadership – don’t take it lying down![3]

Kell asks her readers, ‘Why do we allow politicians to dictate our priorities at work?’ And I found myself shouting back, ‘Yeah, why do we?!’ I think one of the problems with schools is that because there is often a culture and expectation of following rules (i.e. a teacher said so, therefore you must obey), it means that teachers automatically accept the rules (government policies) that come down from above even if they don’t like or agree with them. I have often wondered why more schools don’t simply turn round and say, ‘We don’t agree with that new policy so we won’t be following it.’ This is exactly what schools could be doing and Kell tells us, ‘We don’t have to take it lying down – we know our students and our schools better than anyone.’

2. Embrace your inner maverick[4]

Similar to the point above, Kell implores more teachers to question how their schools are run. New marking policy? Question its wisdom. Expected to work evenings and weekends? Propose new ways of working. Importantly, the maverick behaviour Kell encourages is not about teachers moaning about what they’re expected to do (teachers need no help with that!), instead she says that mavericks challenge thoughtfully and propose solutions to problems. So, if you have an idea about how your school could work better, find your voice and speak up! But, I’d also go one step further and say that, sometimes, it’s OK to break the rules in order to do what’s right for you and your pupils. Kell’s point about maverick teachers reminds me of a quote from Louis Cozolino’s book The Social Neuroscience of Education in which he talks about ‘heroic’ teachers. Cozolino states, ‘A heroic teacher must be brave enough to break the rules in service of his or her students.’[5]

3. We are not alone – we are part of something bigger[6]

It is so easy for teachers to feel isolated. We work in classrooms, often by ourselves, and schools aren’t great at collaborating with each other. But Kell reminds us that every teacher is part of a huge network and we need to remember that but, importantly, tap into it to get and give support when it is needed. There are so many fantastic organisations and individuals out there that do great work in this area. The Education Support Network (@EdSupportUK) offers mental health and wellbeing support to teachers on their free helpline (08000 562 561). Teachers like Tom Rogers (@RogersHistory) has created a ‘Teachers To Talk To’ page on his website where teachers have volunteered to give peer support to other teachers who might need advice, guidance or an ear to bend. Other people leading the charge are Ross McGill (@TeacherToolkit), Sue Cowley (@Sue_Cowley) and Teacher's Manual (@UnoficialOA) who are all constantly challenging the status quo of education and encouraging and empowering teachers to do things teachers differently. And that's exactly why in 2017, I set up www.teachappy.co.uk with the aim of supporting other schools to prioritise the happiness and wellbeing of pupils and staff, as antidote to the exam-factory culture that is taking root. We are not alone and teaching feels that bit more manageable and meaningful when we work as part of a team and a ‘teaching tribe’.

Don’t lose sight of your ‘why’

I was fortunate enough to have Emma Kell contribute feedback and ideas to a chapter on teacher wellbeing in my forthcoming book Wellbeing In The Primary Classroom – A Practical Guide to Teaching Happiness. One of the many things that Kell and I agreed on was the need for teachers to reconnect and stay in touch with their reasons for being a teacher. Amidst the constant change and churn in education, teachers can get buried under targets, mark schemes and data. It’s very easy to lose sight of your sense of purpose. Kell’s advice is to ‘refocus on the students’.[7] When we remember the huge influence we can have on a pupil’s life, and we stay focused on them, all of the other chaff can blow over us.

Going Forward

So, back to my son, Eli. If, in the future, he was to say that he wanted to grow up to be a teacher I would feel a lot more optimistic now. One of the most hopeful stats from Kell’s book is that almost 90% of teachers see it as a worthwhile profession.[8] And it is. It’s one of the most rewarding and important jobs around. And the education landscape is slowly changing for the better. Teachers are beginning to realise that they have a lot more agency and control over their destinies. Teachers are starting to work together more and support one another through social networks. Teachers are embracing their inner maverick, standing up for themselves and their pupils and changing things for the better. And I look at my two-year-old son, stubbornly refusing to do as I say, or follow any of my rules, and I think to myself, ‘Yes, you have exactly what it takes to survive as a teacher.’ #HowToSurviveInTeaching

Adrian Bethune

Adrian is a primary school teacher, founder of Teachappy and author of Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom – A Practical Guide to Teaching Happiness (out 6th September 2018).

[1] How To Survive in Teaching, Kell, E (2018) pg 4-10

[2] Ibid pg 75

[3] How To Survive in Teaching, Kell, E (2018) pg 78-79

[4] Ibid pg 102

[5] The Social Neuroscience of Education, Cozolino, L. (2013) pg 200

[6] How To Survive in Teaching, Kell, E (2018) pg 76

[7] Ibid pg 99

[8] Ibid pg 108


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