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Are you afraid? Fear is real in teaching

Discussion in 'Workplace dilemmas' started by DocWol, May 13, 2016.

  1. DocWol

    DocWol New commenter

    Are you afraid? That sounds a little menacing but I know I have been during my career. I've had those nights and mornings where I felt like I was 11 again and ready to feign sickness to avoid a French test or disguise the fact I hadn't done my English homework. But fear for a teacher is very different as what you are afraid of can be harder to define or can have far more devastating effects than when you were 14.

    As with many other posts within this blog this will not apply to everybody, but it is vital to remember that whilst "teaching" is a single occupational group there will still be a full distribution of personalities within it and you will have colleagues (it may be you) that lives in fear of something at school.

    Nearly 10% of the population suffer from mixed anxiety and depression, that translates to some 45000 teachers. That's a lot and if you are fortunate enough not to be in that "premier league stadium capacity" of your colleagues you are sure to have one nearby. This is a terrible burden for someone to handle and must be taken seriously by schools.

    If I were to be a tad more scientific I would conduct a survey, but I'm not so here's a list of things that spring to mind that can cause fear and anxiety. They are in no particular order and may be very different, some will only apply to senior school teachers, some to school leaders, some to every one and so on. But if you are a truly reflective practitioner I am sure that you have experienced fear and sleepless nights and that you could add to this list. Please note though that anxiety is something far more substantial than the simple worry of getting a roasting from the menacing deputy over not having finished writing your reports. Anxiety is a condition which often requires medication and other interventions, but the following may exacerbate the condition. So here goes:
    • coping with workload
    • disruptive classes
    • certain pupils
    • staffroom (see earlier blog entry)
    • other colleagues
    • technology
    • initiatives
    • OFSTED
    • exams and results
    • monitoring and evaluation (observations, work scrutiny)
    • emails and phone calls
    • senior leaders
    • parents
    • governors
    • the unpredictability of every school day
    • exposure
    • performance management / appraisal
    • accountability
    The point "exposure" is one felt by many primary colleagues (especially Y2 and Y6 teachers) and those teaching GCSE/A-levels. When results are disappointing you will often find that fingers are pointed. One of the roles I used to have as a school assessment manager was to analyse results to identify those teachers in whose class less progress was made. I would like to think that we used the data responsibly and gave teachers support (if needed) to ensure that more progress was made next year or to move a teacher to remove the heat. But I am not naïve, I know that it must have felt dreadful to have been "named and shamed". Careers can be made with good results and excellent observations, and careers curtailed by the opposite, but do we ever consider that the fear of "exposure" is actually a contributing factor in the results. Fear effects motivation, motivation effects performance, performance effects outcomes.

    Can anything be done? I truthfully believe that the maintained school system is fundamentally broken. League tables, OFSTED, the threat of forced academisation, all contribute to an atmosphere of fear. Heads are under ludicrous pressure to ensure that their staff push their pupils to get results. Poor results could bring OFSTED through the door, put the school into special measures and make life truly miserable and put the head's career at stake. Fear, fear, fear.

    Acknowledge it is real. Verbalise fears. Be open in conversations and share experiences. As long as teachers remain caring, emotionally-vulnerable individuals and the education system tacitly threads fear through all that it does, fear will always be present. But if you know it is there, if you feel you can talk about it, then at least we may be able to lessen the pain.

    This is taken from my blog Teachers' Minds Matter
  2. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    This was very interesting and thoughtful. Fear plus stress = wrs absence. Which affects a lot of us these days.
  3. Yoda-

    Yoda- Lead commenter

    Many schools do seem to have a culture of fear.
    Some individuals may well be more susceptible to anxiety due to nature and/ or nurture.
    Put these schools together with the vulnerable individuals and the outcome is rather obvious.

    More resilient individuals can just end up going through a trial by ordeal. It reminds me of...

  4. hhhh

    hhhh Lead commenter

    But what would all those consultants and inspectors do if we returned to the days where teachers were treated with respect and actually allowed to be in charge of their classes (you know, the days when children felt cared for and learned well, and there was far less fear)?
    slingshotsally likes this.
  5. btmmadstuff

    btmmadstuff New commenter

    You're so right! Having taught in a poverty-stricken farm school in Natal, South Africa, the respect and total appreciation of teachers provides a massive contrast to teaching over here. It's a huge challenge - so sad but it undoubtedly tests our strength and stamina to continue our vocation - against all odds...
    PizzoCalabro likes this.
  6. ultimatedingbat

    ultimatedingbat Established commenter

    WAking up every day feeling sick, dreading going into work. That is the fear teaching brings

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