At the Nasuwt teaching union annual conference in Birmingham, member Sharon Bishop said “parents and students now feel they can access teachers 24 hours a day, seven days a week since the pandemic”.
She said: “Many of us have been told to download apps such as ClassDojo [an educational tech app] to our phones, and parents and students have got into the habit of firing off emails 24/7, with the banal, bizarre, and sometimes, more worryingly, aggressive and accusatory messages.
“They seem to feel they can assess us 24/7. Working hours and parameters have been blurred since the pandemic.
Member Kat Lord Watson, who worked in a private school in Scotland during the pandemic, said “the knowledge that the parents were watching you and reading you on their WhatsApp groups was also quite incredible”.
In a study of the impact of parental complaints on teachers and school leaders that she conducted, one teacher said: “The direct line to staff has become much more rapid and the willingness to just jump on to the phone and make a complaint is definitely much more there than it ever has been.”
Another said: “Over the past nine months to a year, is an increase in the – I’m trying to think of the right word – but complaints that you just think, ‘really?’ That’s not something that you could actually ever expect of a school. It’s not reasonable to expect a school to be able to support you in that.”
The conference voted for every school to incorporate welfare into their curriculum, for Nasuwt to lobby Government to include Mental Health First Aid training as a compulsory part of teacher training and for any education recovery strategy to have teacher and pupil mental health “at its core”.
Member Zoe Lynch, proposing the motion, said: “Since returning to school many of us have had children coming to us with their issues on a larger scale than ever before.
“Dealing with secondary traumatic stress has been emotional and mentally hard for all concerned, the children and the staff.
“As a clinically vulnerable adult, a term I’d not really classed myself as until that point, I was advised to shield.
“I suddenly needed to be protected. But I have been the protector of my classes, my students, in the run up to this, advising them on the two-metre social distancing at school, encouraging the washing of hands while thinking ‘happy birthday’ before they ate or drank.
“The protector suddenly needed protecting, and I was not prepared mentally for what was to come.”
Member Michael Poulton said a friend and colleague had died during the pandemic through suicide.
“He didn’t lose the battle to Covid-19. He lost the battle to mental ill health, and he took his own life during the first lockdown.
“We didn’t get the chance to mourn Chris properly. During the lockdown we were able to attend his funeral but it was all socially distanced.
“We weren’t able to really share our loss and say how we felt, and when we got back to school, it was almost like we just had to carry on as if nothing had happened, and there are people with mental scars.
“There are people who have lost loved ones to Covid, lost loved ones to mental ill health. And do we know how to cope with it?”
Data from a Nasuwt survey of more than 4,300 respondents found nearly half – 48% – had tested positive for Covid-19 this term.
Patrick Roach, Nasuwt general secretary, said: “The pandemic has strained us all, but teachers and their students have been tested with unimaginable pressures over the last two years.
“Whilst the country stayed home, teachers braved the frontline of the Covid pandemic to deliver education for our children and young people.
“But soldiering on against the odds is not a sustainable model that encourages healthy workplace practices, nor does it support teachers to perform at their best. As a result, we are witnessing high prevalence of burnout amongst the school workforce.”
He said that “in any walk of life the very idea that the teacher, the individual who’s providing that service can be contacted at all hours – what other walk of life does that apply? It doesn’t.
“Teachers should have the right to disconnect and they should have the right to switch off; they should have the right to a family life.”
He said that for some teachers, “parents can be bombing you, pupils can be bombing you with emails and social media messaging, expecting an immediate response”.
He said Nasuwt heard schools expected teachers to respond to queries from parents immediately because they did not want parents “rocking up the following morning” with complaints, but that “parents themselves, in how they are addressing our members, how they are addressing teachers” were also too insistent on receiving help at all times.
Parents have told teachers that their requests are “urgent” and that they expect an “immediate response” outside working hours, he said.
“When is the teacher’s working day ended?… 7 o clock? 10 o clock at night? ‘My child is struggling with some homework, I need a response to this because they’re getting very distressed’. But when is the teacher entitled to say, ‘I’m not dealing with it’?”
Dr Roach said it left teachers with hardly any time to “look after a cat or dog, let alone a child” when it came to giving time to their own families.