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Kevin Armstrong
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And the happiest, most stressed profession is...

Authors: Kevin Armstrong Kevin Armstrong, Teacher Support Network

14 May 2013

New research released recently (April 29) concluded that teachers are the happiest workers in Britain. 83% of the 299 teachers surveyed apparently said that they ‘loved their job’, despite the fact that teaching has previously been declared the most stressful profession. All of this leads me to wonder what value these sorts of statistics really have. They’re great at provoking a response, but maybe it’s the story behind the stats that really counts.

According to the new research, ‘relationships with colleagues’, ‘working environment’, ‘achieving’ and ‘making a difference’ are key determinants of a person’s happiness at work. This may be true, but these factors also lead people to come to Teacher Support Network for help. For example, we have already taken over 1,000 calls this year where the presenting issue was anxiety, typically linked to the teachers’ relationships with colleagues. If we accept that someone can fluctuate between happiness and anxiety at the flicker of such unpredictable factors, we can take little comfort in the snapshot result of the new research.

Even if we supposed that 83% of teachers do indeed love their jobs and will do so forever more, what about the other 17%? Just two days after reports about the new research, the news also reminded us of how important 0.0002% of the teaching population in England can be. An inquest concluded that Helen Mann, a Primary School Headteacher, committed suicide in November last year. Her name is the latest to be added to a list including the likes of Sarah-Louise Giddy, Irene Hogg and Jed Holmes: a tiny minority of the teaching profession who, nevertheless, matter hugely.

The impact of poor health, or at worse suicide, in a school community is difficult to overstate. Whenever I read about a suicide case I always think back to the friend I lost when I was at school 13 years ago. The outburst of irrepressible tears, the times spent wondering what I could have done differently and the times spent wondering how he could have done it. These memories remain as strong as those of the fantastic support offered afterwards by family, friends and staff at the school. At the time, I never really thought about how hard it must have been for the staff in particular: grieving, supporting and getting on with the day job simultaneously. Right now, this may well be the reality for the staff at Helen Mann’s school.
 
When every teacher’s health can change so quickly and the health of every single teacher matters so much, we mustn’t take the profession’s health for granted. Instead, I hope that people will respond to this research in a different way. If it helps to prompt further work to understand the inner workings and outer impact of teacher wellbeing so we can improve it further, I for one will be a little bit happier.

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