'This is the brutally honest truth about what teaching did to my mental health.'

Let me begin by saying in no way do I believe that you can have an illness for just one year, however, I have lived with this illness now for a year and let me tell you, I would do anything to be able to switch it off.

My year began differently the year of 2018; I brought in the new year in Las Vegas on a Contiki tour with my best friend and my new found friends abroad. I was happy. I was drunk. I was young.

I went on this trip because I felt lost, I needed clarity and I remember a university lecturer once said to our class, “If you’re ever stuck or lost in life, go on a holiday and get drunk.” Eighteen-year-old me thought wow, great advice, but I’ll never need it. Fast forward five years and I was at rock bottom, booking a holiday to the States that I couldn’t overly afford but desperately needed. That’s when Vegas, New York, Orlando, Miami and LA happened. These places, this holiday provided a band-aid to my unhappiness that I desperately searched for.

This worked for roughly six weeks and then the reality of work really hit. Here I was, a teacher of a year four class standing in front of room of students wondering how the hell I was going to survive that hour, that day, that week, let alone the term or the year.

I had a class that leadership liked to call ‘interesting’… the class no one wanted because of the students in it, the ‘tricky class’, the type of class that to quote a colleague, “I’d go out on stress leave if they even tried to give me that bunch.” But, I was determined to change them from ‘that class’ to a class people respected. This class of 26 students in a category six mainstream school involved almost half with disability and/or trauma of some kind. I had my work cut out for me and I was determined to succeed with them.

Then, reality hit, I was unhappy to be back from holidays, I was unhappy to be teaching, I was unhappy to wake up, I was snapping at everyone, I didn’t go out. One day, I hit rock bottom after a chair was thrown at me and a student with autism kick me. No one asked if I was OK. Three simple words could have had the power to change everything, but it was as if everyone was too afraid to ask: “Are you OK?” My site leaders certainly never asked because they knew the answer and sometimes, it was easier to turn a blind eye than admit certain students should have never been put into a classroom together.

family violence from a teacher's perspective
Three simple words could have had the power to change everything, but it was as if everyone was too afraid to ask: “Are you OK?”. Image: Getty.

My boyfriend, the reason I sought help, often had to hug me on the floor of his house after a day of students with trauma acting out, being kicked by students with disabilities and having to evacuate a classroom for safety reasons. This became a regular occurrence.

Many people will no doubt ask, “Why didn’t she have proper behaviour management? What did her site leaders do to help? Why didn’t she seek outside agency support for those students?"

The thing is, as a contract teacher, you can only do so much. Each time I sought help for my students I was met with a hard no, or a “the parents are working through something”. Here’s the thing many people don’t understand about the education system. It often does nothing to support its students who need it most, let alone the teachers who need it too. That was the hard thing I had to learn last year. As an educator, you can fill out hours of paperwork, send numerous emails to agencies, liaise with specialists, and you will still be met with a wall.

I am in no way saying my depression was a direct result of the class I had, or the leadership (or lack there of sometimes). Everyone has bad days and tough situations with their students. However, I do know that in a different situation I would be happier.

I loved my class, I loved their uniqueness, I loved being their source of stability, I loved watching them set goals and achieve them. What I didn’t love is how often the education system fails its students and its teachers.

Recent studies show that 40-50 per cent of new teachers leave within the first five years on the job. I am the statistic. I am one of those teachers who will leave teaching within their first five years. Working in a thankless job with long hours, difficult students and often worse parents means that we often don’t get to do what we are trained to do - teach.

I don’t want to be a teacher anymore, however, I am damn good at it, but I cannot fake it anymore.

I do closely relate my depression to teaching for reasons I believe only other teachers would truly understand. Teaching can be truly isolating and I look forward to the day I can leave the profession, a statement which I know I am not alone in thinking.

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