Guest Post: Anon
I have wanted to write this for a long time. In reality, finding the strength has been the problem. I have been teaching for over 20 years and I thought I had seen it all. You should also know I set my standards really high and have had an impeccable career. I truly loved being a teacher, I was rarely ill. However, one incident at school left me with PTSD, a breakdown and having to leave the job I love for a while to give myself time to recover. At one point I didn’t know if I could return to the profession again.
In my pastoral role, this was a year I wouldn’t wish on anyone: sadly, two students attempted to take their own lives. I have PTSD now as a result of a child’s cry for help.
Immediately after the events had taken place, I was offered initial support and took it. However, over time I found I was suffering from post-traumatic stress as I was reliving the experience and having flashbacks day in day out. I asked for help from those above; nothing came. At the time, I felt there was a lack of understanding, I needed specialist support in PTSD and trauma. I do not blame the school, they were managing a very unusual situation and doing what they thought was right. However slowly my mental health was deteriorating. I was not sleeping, not eating well and probably having far too many G and T’s.
On reflection, there were tell-tale signs I wasn’t coping, and I am reminded of a time before I was signed off. I was supporting some students during break and lunch who were having a hard time, offering them a safe space to be, as I often have done throughout my career. We were sat in the classroom, I was doing some work and I hadn’t realised I was humming, until one of the students asked, “Are you alright Miss?” It was at this point I thought I had a problem. Then in a matter of weeks, the shakes began, and my body physically began reacting. I was also reacting to loud noises; I would jump and shake.
I remember the day I broke down. I just couldn’t go on and the tears fell and fell and fell. The only way I can explain it was everything just fell out of me. I was sent home and didn’t return. The guilt was tremendous, I felt so guilty that I had let everyone down, and in particular, the students down as I wasn’t there to support them. But what I really needed to do was put some intense support for myself.
I financed my own specialist support as this wasn’t freely available. At first, I couldn’t leave the house. I couldn’t hold a cup of coffee without making a mess: the shakes would be constant. A lot of the time all I could do was sit. The recovery has been difficult, at times seemingly impossible. But I am happy to say I am now in a much better place.
My family were amazing and after a long, while I started to feel better, my sleeping improved, and the flashbacks stopped. I still have triggers, but they are rare and from what I understand from PTSD and professionals, this is a normal occurrence and I have the knowledge to put things in place when I need to, and I do.
This isn’t an experience I have chosen to tell lightly. However, I feel it is so important that Senior Leaders take heed, listen and put support measures in place. Since this has happened, I have spoken to other people in different professions, all of whom get support when serious traumatic events happen. From Social workers, employees in hospitals and people who work as reporters at child hearings. When there has been a serious case that they have been dealing with they have supported both during and after the case; they are offered specialist counselling, time off and support to continue in their work. What I am disappointed most by, considering our profession is all about caring for others, is that we do not have a standard process for supporting staff when they are on the frontline of supporting our young people through very difficult times.
As a Head of Year, a job I adored, it was a privilege to support young people from all backgrounds and experiences, and I have treasured memories of the differences I have made to young people. There were many times I would go home and hurt for them: the disclosures of abuse I heard, the traumas they had been through. The wait for social workers to come to provide the necessary support or indeed working with the police to support our young people.
Reflecting upon what I have been through, I realise that throughout my career I have never been offered any form of counselling or support to process what I, along with all teachers, have been dealing with at the time. What I am arguing for is a set process for the profession that needs to be followed to make sure we support the mental health of our staff as well as our students.
Now some people will say there is counselling you can access if you want it, often via a telephone, but for trauma, you need specialist help, and this isn’t always on offer. I think there needs to be more trauma-informed practices that are set processes, meaning we are supporting staff to a gold standard. The US leads the world having national policies in trauma-informed care and other countries worldwide are catching up. I think that England needs to become more ‘trauma aware’. Ultimately, we are educators, but we also provide a wealth of other support as well, something that often goes unnoticed by anyone who isn’t working in the profession.