Every Teacher Matters
On World Teachers’ Day, Julian Stanley meets teacher wellbeing specialist Kathryn Lovewell and asks what our world would look like if we realised what teachers are worth.
What if we, as a society, were to publicly express how valuable teachers are? What if we were to recognise that teachers are the most valuable resource in education?
What if we invested in their wellbeing? Would that reduce the number of teachers leaving the profession each year? Would it raise the quality of teaching and learning in schools? Would it raise the profile of teaching as a profession? What if every teacher mattered?
These were some of the questions posed by Kathryn Lovewell this month when we met to discuss the launch of her book Every Teacher Matters.
“They don’t train teachers how to manage the emotional rollercoaster that is teaching,” Kathryn said. “The day to day emotional demands are huge, never mind the pressures of institutional change, the exam results, the league tables and then of course all of the judgments made by the media.”
Kathryn worries about a culture of self-sacrifice, where teachers believe they must work every hour of the day.
As a newly qualified teacher, Kathryn took these messages to heart: working unsustainably hard, she found herself in hospital after her probationary year, burnt out. Her recovery was hampered by her feelings of guilt about having let down her students and colleagues back at school.
Kathryn’s experience is vivid but not unique. Last year, Teacher Support Network received 1,221 calls or emails from teachers reporting problems with their worklife balance. We also received 3, 210 calls or emails about anxiety and 2,779 about low mood while 1,429 teachers reported sleep issues.
Fortunately, Kathryn recovered from her illness. Furthermore, she learnt from it and she grew into a stronger person - and a resilient teacher. She now insists that others should not have to learn the hard way. Instead, she imagines a society that prioritises emotional health in the workplace. Her vision is a world where teachers and learners have a high level of emotional intelligence. This, she says, will result in “effortless teaching and learning”.
Kathryn is right. Emotions are often a barrier to effective communication. How often have you been met with an inexplicably hostile attitude to a reasonable request? How often have you had an idea rejected not because it was a bad idea but because of the mood the person was in, or the way the idea was presented? As a culture, we have a long way to come to comprehend how emotions affect behaviour in organisations.
Thankfully, many teachers are blessed with superb social literacy. My son’s former mentor from secondary school is an example. His patience, tact and wisdom allowed him to be an inspirational teacher. I later realised these qualities were enabling him to mediate between his colleagues and to bring about organisational change. His emotional intelligence powered his career and he subsequently gained a leadership position.
When teachers like this help colleagues to develop emotional intelligence they make a school a more empathetic place. In doing so, they help make society more humane.
Yet 79% of teachers think the profession has a poor public image, according to a survey we conducted at Teacher Support Network. It seems the public does not fully recognise the value that teachers add.
What if they did? A society where teachers matter would value emotional intelligence and would invest in teacher wellbeing. Its leaders and policy makers would engage in meaningful consultation with teachers’ bodies over changes that have the potential to affect teachers’ wellbeing. Education initiatives would recognise the primacy of the professional relationship between teacher and pupil and would not involve excessive administrative demands for teachers. Most importantly, a society that values teachers would give them time each day to recharge, to do those things that bring them happiness, in order that they can be healthy role models for their students.