Mental health is something that all teachers and early years practitioners possess. When it is good, we have a sense of purpose and direction and feel that we can overcome any obstacle that life (and work) throws at us. But, just as our physical health swings, so too our mental health oscillates between ups and downs.
According to a recent study from Education Support, more than 50% of teachers and early years in the UK have a diagnosed mental health problem. In detail, 76% of education professionals experience behavioural, psychological and physical symptoms because of their work.
Teachers and early years practitioners' mental health issues are crucial to consider and deal with, not only because they have a detrimental effect on staff's health, but also children and students' wellbeing. A survey conducted by the Leeds Beckett University indicates that 77% of teachers and early years practitioners felt that their poor mental health was having a damaging impact on children's mental health, and 85% said that it negatively affected the quality of lesson planning.
Raising awareness of mental health in schools and nurseries is part of fostering an inclusive workplace, where people feel able to bring their whole selves to work. Having now faced the pandemic for several months, the uncertainty and concerns around our personal lives and current work situations has given rise to a whole mix of feelings and related physical signs and symptoms.
For many teachers and early years practitioners, this extended period of isolation and lack of contact has generated stress, anxiety and the aggravation of underlying conditions that previously might have been manageable. For others, poor mental wellbeing may have been caused by the pressure that the early years sector is putting on teachers and early years practitioners.
Whatever the reason, workplace wellbeing refers to every school and nursery's goal of being mindful of, and improving, the overall mental health in their educational setting.
Therefore, we would like to introduce Oliver to those who are considering a career in childcare and education, and are committed to improving mental health in the workplace. Oliver began his career in early years as a nursery apprentice. He is now the Mental Health Lead and Childcare Specialist for a large childcare providing company.
Can you tell us about how your professional journey started?
"I did a master’s degree in child and adolescent mental health and, whilst I was finishing it, I wanted to start working with children and get some more practical experience. I was given a job at a nursery as an apprentice and did my level 3 there. I started in the baby room and absolutely loved it. I became the deputy room leader and trained as a mental health first aider so I could support the staff in the nursery as well."
What is your current role?
"I’m now the Mental Health Lead for a large childcare providing company and I’m a Childcare Specialist as well. It’s the best job in the world. I get to travel to lots of different nurseries, talking to the staff and supporting them with their mental health and wellbeing. As well as this, I work with them on improving the quality of practise and care within their settings."
3 reasons why you work in education?
"1. I love the joy and excitement you get from working with early years children, they make everything so magical and fun!
2. I love the passion and enthusiasm from all the staff in the sector. Everyone genuinely cares about the children and wants what’s best for them. Being around people and working with people that want the same outcomes for children as you do is so empowering.
3. It is the most rewarding sector I’ve ever worked in because you get to see the children grow, learn and develop, and it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of."
What was your worst challenge at work and how did you overcome it?
"My hardest challenge at work was probably when I was room based and the baby room was getting really busy! There were lots of new children who were very unsettled and it felt like we couldn’t give them all the attention that they needed. To overcome this I sat down with management and my room leader and we discussed the best way to help settle all the new children and how we could manage the room and the routine in a way that the children could thrive."
Something about your job that you would never exchange for anything else?
"Knowing that I have helped someone, made their day the tiniest bit better, or helped them take a huge step forward is the most rewarding thing. If the staff I work with are happy and doing their job to the best of their ability, then I know the children will be happy."
What personal traits make you suitable to work in the education industry?
"I think patience is a really key trait. Children ask lots of questions and need repetition in order to grasp new concepts. This means doing the same things over and over, reading the same book a hundred times, or explaining things and answering questions multiple times. Being able to keep calm and go at their pace is really important."
Is mental health important for teachers and early years practitioners?
"Working in education can be incredibly stressful. It’s a mentally and physically draining job and I believe that looking after our mental health is absolutely vital! If we’re happy and thriving then it will allow for our children to be happy and thriving too. We have to remember to take time to look after ourselves and reach out for help if we need it."
How would your manager describe you? And why?
"My manager would probably describe me as likeable which is good because with my role I need to make sure I am approachable to lots of different people. I would probably be described as a bit childish and silly as well, which comes in handy when working in early years!"
How do you stay motivated in your role?
"Staying motivated in my role is easy. I think that when you have a passion for something, it doesn’t feel like work or like a chore. Knowing that people and children need me day to day keeps me motivated for sure."
Can you tell us of the most common struggles teaching staff experience at work?
"The most common struggle in early years is probably finding time to get everything done! There are many responsibilities in an early years room and so the best way to overcome this would be to manage your time effectively and work well with your team to make sure everyone is pulling together and sharing the workload."
How do you incorporate a good work-life balance in teaching?
"I think this is something a lot of people struggle with and so there are lots of different ways that we can help ourselves maintain a good balance. Set aside time to yourself, make clear boundaries between work and home. If you have to take work home then make sure you do it in a separate area. Remember to ask for help! If workload is getting out of control then discuss it with your manager and create some realistic goals for yourself."
What are the best strategies to maintain good mental health in a nursery or school?
"Self-care is so important for our mental health and wellbeing, making sure to make time for ourselves to relax and de-stress. We spend our whole days looking after little ones, we need to look after ourselves as well!"
A piece of advice for those who have recently started a career in teaching?
"Play! Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in all of the paperwork and housekeeping. Of course these things are important and shouldn’t be ignored, but I think people forget that the most important thing is playing with the children and playing provides the best opportunity to teach!"
A career in childcare and education is highly rewarding if you are passionate about and committed to improving children's health and wellbeing, including their mental health. If you are looking to start a career in education, or you would like to ask for advice, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or see available vacancies from gender-inclusive employers.