Teacher driven to tears by the job

A North-East teacher yesterday told a national conference how she had to choke back tears during class due to the unrelenting pressure of the job.

Monkseaton High School teacher Magenta Stonestreet

A North-East teacher yesterday told a national conference how she had to choke back tears during class due to the unrelenting pressure of the job.

Magenta Stonestreet revealed how the demands of her profession - intensified by the tragic death of a pupil in her form who drowned last month - had taken a toll on her mental health.

The annual conference of the National Union of Teachers was told how excessive demands from ministers and management "bullying" have led to up to one in three teachers experiencing mental health problems.

Delegates also warned that some colleagues, unable to cope, had taken their own lives.

At the event yesterday, Magenta Stonestreet, a teacher at Monkseaton High School, in North Tyneside, said she had struggled with depression and only returned to work this January after four months off through illness because the pressures of work were so great.

She told the conference: "One of the things which I think was good is that I managed to get the kids out of the classroom the other day before I cried."

Afterwards she told The Journal: "There is too much pressure from the work load and achieving good exam results.

"Stress and depression are absolutely rife in our profession. I think it is an occupational hazard. It is happening in the North-East and all over the country."

The 37-year-old humanities and psychology teacher has a history of depression but had been well for a number of years.

"My job is a big contributory factor," she said. "There is nothing particular about the school, my colleagues have been very supportive. It really is teaching in general."

Describing her classroom tears, she said things had been difficult at the school after the death of 15-year-old pupil Daniel Cardwell who drowned after wading into the lake at Marden Quarry Nature Reserve in Whitley Bay on March 11.

Ms Stonestreet said: "Daniel was in my form and it has been quite a difficult half term for all of us.

"The tears were complete frustration that a job I love I'm not being able to do properly."

She blamed a "lack of response and interest" from some of her pupils on relentless tests and exams from primary school through to secondary school.

The mother-of-two said she knew of teachers who are bullied by management and experienced mental health problems such as eating disorders, but not at her particular school.

Ms Stonestreet said: "The are lots of people under worrying degrees of pressure.

"There is an increasing move to judge people's pay progression on exam and key stage results, but at the end of the day there are a lot of other factors that influence children's motivation."

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Resorting to 'alcohol, smoking or unhealthy eating'

Magenta Stonestreet was speaking in an emotional debate at the NUT's annual conference in Harrogate and hopes by doing so more support will be given to teachers.

She said: "There is still a stigma surrounding mental health problems. I would like teachers to come forward and share their experiences and to discuss their own worries and fears."

The conference heard a snapshot survey of 140 teachers in Nottingham found one in three "resort to alcohol, smoking, unhealthy eating or other substances to help them cope".

The union unanimously passed a motion which warned that severe mental illness can "shatter" the lives of teachers and their families. "The types and causes of mental illness are complex but depression and acute anxiety are common amongst teachers," the motion said. "It is a major cause of teacher absence and many teachers are only able to continue working because of long-term medication.

"Drug addiction, eating disorders and obsessive behaviours are also common."

The motion was proposed by former NUT president John Illingworth, who won a standing ovation at last year's conference when he broke down as he described how stress and "Government bullying" forced him to quit.

He told the conference he had received a letter from the wife of a headteacher who became depressed after a critical school inspection. He gave up his job and ended his life.

 

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