Discover how teacher Faisal chose to protect his mental health by stepping away from workplace bullying – for his sake and the sake of his students
Occasionally, I take a deep breath and visit the website of the school I was bullied out of. Reading their claims of being ambassadors for anti-bullying, knowing full well what I went through and how rapidly events transpired, makes me extremely grateful that I’m not in that toxic environment anymore.
I’ve taught chemistry for well over two decades and, as a result of my varied school experiences, I fully appreciate the importance of good mental health and well-being, for both myself and the students in my duty of care.
Our craft deteriorates when we are not in a good place mentally. It can be challenging to focus on our work, leading to decreased productivity and job satisfaction. On the other hand, when we prioritise our mental health, we are better able to handle the challenges of teaching and can create a positive learning environment for our students.
How it went
Many years ago, I was excited to join a great school as a middle leader. I worked hard to make the most of the opportunities, and managed to elevate the role of STEM to levels that some could only dream of, bringing in massive amounts of funding and publicity at both local and national level. Our events were attracting pupils from a catchment area in direct competition with another college. Things were going well.
Naturally, there were areas where I felt we could improve, such as our GCSE offering, and so I thought it time to focus on our brand new suite of GCSEs. At this point, things took a turn for the worse. The new head saw things differently, and soon after their appointment I knew something was not quite right. When my line manager – perhaps accidently – left the minutes from a senior leadership team meeting in my lab with an agenda item entitled ‘Science – leadership’, my fears were confirmed: my face did not fit anymore.
If you are being bullied, I encourage you to seek a union representative’s support as soon as possible and, if things don’t improve, find the strength to get out and move on
Lesson observations were used as a pressure point. Unannounced and with no feedback, I was randomly observed twice a week at times, with the expectation that I would have plans to present in hand. Even on the first day back from the Christmas holidays. After three months of this, I contacted my union. They were shocked. They recommended I approach the head to find out when this would end. The following day, just two minutes into the meeting, they dropped any further formal observations. Yet no justification was given for the level of observation I had been subjected to. I felt truly confused, as I had trusted in the process.
How it’s going
Even after many years of better school experiences, I still have a habit of holding on to people and events in my mind. I remember being publicly scolded at a staff meeting on teaching and learning when I asked about the evidence that supported learning styles. I recall being ignored by the head and the new deputy at a staff Christmas event, and even being questioned by others on what I was doing there. I also remember being shouted at by my line manager within earshot of pupils in the corridor.
By taking care of yourself and seeking support when needed, you can create a positive teaching experience for yourself and your students
It’s not easy to take yourself out of a bad work situation when you have financial pressures as well as career aspirations. But if you are being bullied, I encourage you to seek a union representative’s support as soon as possible and, if things don’t improve, find the strength to get out and move on.
Even in the right school, the pressure to meet the needs of all students, meet academic standards and manage the daily demands of the job can take a toll on our well-being. However, there is hope. When you find the right school and have the right support, teaching can be a massively rewarding and fulfilling profession. By taking care of yourself and seeking support when needed, you can create a positive teaching experience for yourself and your students.
How to prioritise your mental health
- Take care of yourself
It’s important to take care of your physical and emotional well-being by getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet and engaging in activities that bring you joy.
- Seek support
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. You could talk to a trusted colleague, seek support from a mental health professional or speak to your GP. Read our Get support from … ASE and Education Support articles for further advice.
- Practise self-compassion
Be kind to yourself, and remember that it’s OK to make mistakes. Instead of beating yourself up, try to practise self-compassion – you’re doing the best you can.
- Find balance
Make sure you set boundaries and balance work and your personal life. It’s important to have time for hobbies, family and other enjoyable activities outside work.
- Create a positive work environment
Surround yourself with supportive colleagues and work to create a positive and inclusive learning environment for your students. This can help to create a sense of community and improve overall well-being.