In a recent education supplement of a national broadsheet paper, there appeared a column entitled, Why Teaching Isn’t Stressful. In the piece, David Mingay – a teacher himself – argued that those who found the job stressful or who suffered mental health problems as a result of teaching, should quit.

He cited a report from the NUT conference which claimed that ‘one in three [teachers] will have mental health problems at some point due to the stress of the job’ and that ‘drug addiction, eating disorders and obsessive behaviour are also common’. I imagine that while half the teachers reading the article were nodding their heads in quiet agreement, the other half were rather less quietly spitting feathers.

Seymour Skinner

I found myself torn between the two camps. Because as a teacher who did find teaching stressful and did suffer mental health problems, I chose to take Mingay’s advice and leave the profession.

A quick glance at any one of the numerous internet forums for teachers suggests that opinion is just as divided. One contributor comments: ‘I get so fed up with [people] commenting on how cushy it is to be a teacher with all those long holidays, late starts and early finishes [whereas] in reality I arrive at school for 7.45 and rarely leave before 6, I spend loads of time in the evenings, at weekends and during the holidays preparing my classroom, planning and assessing work’.

But she gets an unsympathetic response from a fellow colleague who writes: ‘I work shorter hours than my two best friends. I get paid more. I have more job security. I get 9 more weeks’ holiday a year. I never work weekends. I get job satisfaction. I get a reasonable yearly pay increase, they get below inflation.’

So, why does this apparent discrepancy arise? One theory is the difference between working in the primary and secondary sectors. I suspect – from his references to excessive homework and detention – that Mr Mingay is a secondary teacher. And it seems to be a common conception – especially among primary teachers – that their fellow colleagues in the secondary sector have got it just a tad easier. Having said that, ask the same primary teachers if they’d rather work in key stage 3 or 4 and they are not so forthcoming.

I’m not convinced by the argument that primary is more stressful than secondary, but I do believe that the environment in which we teach is responsible for the widely differing experiences which teachers encounter. The socio-economic background, the management of the school, the funding and resources available, the involvement of parents and countless other issues all play a part in how teachers experience the job.  And these factors undoubtedly have an impact on the varying amounts of stress under which teachers are put.

Mingay complains about the hypocrisy of teachers who complain about their own workload while expecting their students to succeed under similar conditions. My idea of hypocrisy is describing a profession as ‘one of the most pleasant and satisfying jobs on could ever wish for’ in one sentence and then claiming teachers should be given a pay increase in the next. If teaching is such a bed of roses, then surely the government should be charging teachers for the privilege of ‘working with the most exciting people in the world’.

In reality, the idea that an increase in pay would solve the problem is naïve. Do doctors not suffer stress? How about lawyers? With inflated pay would come higher expectations – it would increase pressure on teachers – the only difference would be they’d have a nicer house and a bigger mortgage.



  1. 1 Samsara February 10, 2011 at 4:59 am

    Students have one job, but a very important one. They need to invest in themselves. That is, at the core, what an education is.
    Our job as teachers is to guide, inspire and motivate this investment in education. Of course any student who wishes to gain as much as possible from this process is going to put some time in on the evenings and weekends. Learning should feel like hard work, but also be fun and rewarding.
    The coach does not go out on the field with the players.
    My job is to be a teacher, and I love it. My job is not to be a martyr. I continue to invest in myself by cultivating my relationships with my friends. I host dinner parties. I study music and sing opera. I run. I am learning Spanish. This is my homework.

    Written in response to the following quotation from the article in The Guardian:
    “What really gets my goat is the hypocrisy of it all. Teachers are constantly overloading students with excessive homework. And if the students don’t manage to do it, instead of sympathising that they are “living in an educational reign of terror” (as one headteacher says of teachers), they give them detention, just to make the students’ working hours even more excessive. If they inspect students’ exercise books and find the work isn’t up to scratch, ditto.”

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About Me

I'm a journalist and a part-time amateur stand-up comedian. Note the word amateur - don't expect me to be funny.

For a very short while I was a primary school teacher. In short, I couldn't hack it - too much work and too much stress.

I have a huge amount of respect for all teachers because I know how tough the job can be.

There's not much more to tell - read my first two blogs STAND-UP and WHY TEACHING IS STRESSFUL and they might give you a better idea about me.

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