Education Quandary

'I'm a new teacher. I'm not coping, and I feel desperate. Please don't tell me to talk to someone'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

All right, I won't - even though it is clear from your letter that you know it's what you should do. But you are under stress, and so not able to behave as rationally as you would like.

So how about talking to yourself instead? Tell yourself firmly that it is common for people at the start of this demanding career to feel overwhelmed, and tell yourself that things will get better. Tell yourself that there's no shame in what you are feeling; in fact, it is almost certainly a result of wanting to do the best job possible and to make every lesson perfect.

That is a terrific aim to have, but it's not realistic. "Good enough" will have to do sometimes. Likewise with lesson planning and marking; you probably need to cut corners here. There are many ways to do these things faster and more efficiently, and that will leave more time for a balanced life that includes friends, relaxation and diversion. Which, in turn, will make you happier and more energised; which, in turn, will make your teaching more positive, upbeat and effective...

To help you to do this, look at books by specialist writers such as Sara Bubb and Elizabeth Holmes, or turn to the internet. The General Teaching Council offers time-saving tips, as does the Teacher Support Network, which you can phone for confidential help.

Once you're feeling stronger, though, do find the courage to talk to your mentor or manager. You'll be amazed how much it will help. The support of colleagues is what gets most new teachers through.

Readers' advice

You must talk to whoever has responsibility for your professional development. It is possible that you are doing more detailed planning than is necessary. Is it all of real value? Is your marking both efficient and effective? It is not possible, or even desirable, to mark all work in minute detail.

You have a professional responsibility to safeguard your personal wellbeing. When I was a head teacher, there were times when staff helped me to cope, and others when I was able to help them. Most stress is caused by pretending that things are different from what they really are. Do be honest - I believe you can come through this and enjoy a rewarding career.

Joe Buchan, East Yorkshire

What helped me most was setting deadlines. I told myself that I would only work after supper until nine o'clock. It was really hard, but it taught me how to make sure I did the most important things first, and speeded up what I was doing. It also helped with sleep. I now know that if I work late I can never switch off.

Jenny Wheelwright, Lancashire

You must talk to someone. You are under serious stress, and without help you could get yourself in so deep that you will not be able to get out. I know what I am talking about, because I had a breakdown three years into teaching and had to have a year off. If you can't talk to someone at school, find a counsellor or someone else who can help.

Maggie Fitzgerald, Glasgow

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary

My daughter is good at science at school, but she is saying that all her friends are going on to do arts A-levels, and that if she does science she will be mainly with boys.

This is so frustrating. There is still a big gender divide in her school, and no one seems to be addressing it. Is there anything we can do to broaden her outlook?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 22 January, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser