Victoria, Head of Geography in a secondary school, was stressed and anxious due to a relentless workload and unreasonable expectations. After breaking down in tears, she turned to our helpline for support.
I started working at free school in 2014. It had only been established the year before and the Humanities Department had very little organised.
As a result, I needed to set up KS3 and KS4 from scratch. This was hard work as the only Humanities specialist. I was teaching Geography, History and ICT at KS4 and Humanities at KS3. The workload was constant.
In addition, the emphasis on data, assessment and progress was extensive. I just couldn't meet the expectations in the time available each week, both in and out of working hours.
It continued like this for two years until just before Easter 2016. The workload was relentless and despite asking for support to identify where I could cut it down, I received no guidance. I became exhausted and as a result broke down in front of a class. I enjoyed the Easter break but when I returned on the Monday morning, I stepped into my classroom and instantly knew I couldn't be there.
I went to find someone to speak to and just broke down in tears. I couldn't explain it.
I was sent home for the rest of the day.
The next day arrived and I didn't want to go back. I knew that if I didn't speak to someone, I would never go back to work. So I called the Education Support Partnership free helpline.
How did you find out about the helpline
I'd come across the website in my first year at the school, when I first thought about leaving. I needed someone to talk to and searched the internet support for teachers and found out about the helpline. However, at this point I didn't have the confidence to call.
What support did you receive?
The first time I called I literally just talked at a counsellor. It really helped, I was able to just splurge. At first I struggled, but she asked questions that soon got my thoughts and feelings coming out. Once I'd started I couldn't stop. She just listened.
At the end of the call, the counsellor summarised what I'd said and asked what solutions there might be. I struggled with this aspect as I felt like I'd ran out of options. But she questioned and guided me to help find a temporary solution - I was going to go to the doctors and take some time off of work.
The second time I rang, I needed emotional support. The day I returned to work, I had a back to work meeting in which I was made to feel like the stress and anxiety I was feeling was a result of my own personality. I left work immediately after the meeting, I was too emotional to remain. When I got home I was an emotional wreck, my partner wouldn't be home for a few hours and I needed someone to talk to.
I rang the helpline and received what felt like a shoulder to cry on. My emotions came out, I cried, a lot, but still the counsellor listened and tried to keep me calm. She was fantastic. We ended up talking about a lot, not just the stresses I felt from work and the anxiety attacks I was experiencing as a result but things from my past and how I'd dealt with them.
She made me feel more positive about the fact that I've dealt with stresses in life before and overcame them and I could do so again. I think I spoke to her for almost 2 hours and at no point did I feel she wanted to end the phone call until she knew I was calm and safe. Eventually I reached this point with great thanks to the counsellor.
What was the impact of the call?
I returned to work the next day after seeing the doctor with a more positive outlook. I was going to move school and just had to get through the next two terms.
I wouldn't have gone back the next day without the support I received from the Education Support Partnership helpline.
I knew that if I needed someone unbiased and completely neutral to talk to over the time left at the school, I could turn to the helpline. This gave me strength.
I can honestly say that the support I received from the Education Support Partnership has kept me in teaching. Without that first phone call I can guarantee I would have left teaching. I would never have had the strength to see a doctor and take time off to get myself back on track.
How has your situation changed?
I started at a new school in September and was clear with them about my health and experiences over the last year. I feel they are completely supportive and have a positive focus on staff wellbeing which in turn makes me feel valued and confident in my ability to deal with the stresses of the job.
I now take my wellbeing more seriously and aim to look after myself in order to give the best I can to my students.
What would you say to anyone working in education who is in a similar position?
Please make use of the support available! Sometimes it's hard to speak to people you are close to and even harder to speak to a stranger. But the counsellors at the Education Support Partnership are fantastic! They listen, support and guide to help you to discover solutions that are best for you.