GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Caring profession in need of care

How can we support the health and wellbeing of our young people when we are unable to protect, let alone enhance, our own?

Robert Macmillan

Imagine for a moment. She’s at your door again and when you notice you roll your eyes before turning to face her.

She stands almost apologetically. She creeps round the door and prepares to reveal the latest deadline of yours that she’s missed. You wonder what it is this time: another excuse to follow in a long line.

Another family emergency? Or is it that anxiety excuse that gives her a label to hide behind? You fake a caring word or two, to make her go away. In loco parentis does not extend to this almost daily dance!

Imagine the look on her face as you grant her another reprieve. Now imagine she’s a pupil.

Imagine for a moment that you arrive at his door again. As you approach, you see the same sight as so often before. That face focused upon the screen, the hands on either a keyboard or the random bits of paper soon coming your way for more mindless form-filling. All you’re waiting on is an update on that referral, bet you there isn’t one. Yet another thing to add to the pile of “I’ll get to that, I promise.”

What you don’t see is the many demands in many directions from many sources. That admin you are going to send out to colleagues is something you too could do without, but those up the chain are demanding it. The arrivals at your door do not see the long hours, or the tears.

Each of us can recall situations where we could have been on either side of these two conversations. We are stars of our own movies and see the world from our own perspective, regardless of how well developed our sense of empathy.

Why then, if any one of us could be, and in fact are, the caricatures above, does this go on? Why in a caring profession do so many of us remain in need of care?

It is my contention that schools as institutions are simply rubbish at looking after the wellbeing of staff. In fact, if we failed our pupils in the same way in which we so badly fail those who work on their behalf, there would be a national scandal.

... if we failed our pupils in the same way in which we so badly fail those who work on their behalf, there would be a national scandal

If we wish to have the best possible learning conditions for pupils then we must have the best working conditions for teachers. Central to that is the wellbeing of teachers.

How can we develop our capacity to support the health and wellbeing of young people when we are unable to protect, let alone enhance, our own?

More for less, with fewer resources and wearier arms to carry the burdens. How many will crash and burn?

At a time of cuts and with more cuts to come, how much hope is there that things will get better?

The communities which we serve are seeing the closure of many facilities. Often these are the very facilities enabling sustainability.

All too often it is teachers who step in to fill the void when other services cannot. But, who will step in to help us?

What chance a senior GTC Scotland officer with responsibility for teacher wellbeing? What chance a local authority education officer with the same focus? What chance indeed?

We may have to count on each other even more than before. We achieve so much and can achieve so much more.

The challenge to our employers, to our colleagues and to ourselves is to work to create the conditions to do so.

This challenge is growing but it is one that we have to meet. For the sake of our pupils and for the sake of ourselves.

About the Author

Robert Macmillan is a Modern Studies teacher at Inverkeithing High School in Fife. He (occasionally) blogs at robfmac.com and is @robfmac on Twitter.