"Mental health, wellbeing and resilience are huge in the further education context," writes Jennifer Lindsell, Graphic Design BTEC L2/3 and Art teacher at Joseph Chamberlain College.
Studies have shown that as many as a third of teachers have experienced mental health problems, and many more are leaving education because of the workload. Both teachers and students alike deserve the right support, as well as time to explore and find techniques to help them control their own emotions.
As a Recently Qualified Teacher, I decided to study my own mental health as well as my interests in art education. This study was designed for me to look into my own emotions, and how they can affect my day-to-day life within the education sector.
We are exasperated with cuts, more demanding work and, in some cases, an extreme lack of support from our senior leadership. I have watched first-hand how easily trainee teachers can lose their excitement for joining the education sector because of the struggles with vigorous observations and unrealistic feedback.
To carry out this study, I produced one sketch every hour of every day for a week. These sketches were unplanned, produced on any material I could find in that moment, and where meant to show exactly how I felt during that time, in the rawest form. During this week, I was teaching, spending time at University, taking students on trips and observing trainee teachers. The aim to show whether there is a correlation between certain aspects of my job as an educator, and how I feel throughout the day, and answering the questions: will art help me? And if it does, will it help the education sector?
The impact of this has been huge. What I found was that art helps in more ways than can be explained. From the beginning, I struggled to come to terms with having to think about how I felt on an hourly basis. As a teacher, you always put your students first. I thought of them, and only them when in session time. Outside of that, I have buried myself into work and study. Completing online courses, never dealing with what was there in front of me: that quite often I burn myself out, and that my mental health will not go away.
Towards the end of the week, producing these hourly illustrations became a saviour for me. I was able to take a step away from avoidance, think and deal with what I needed to. This art production became my release and I looked forward to being able to spend 30 seconds, or five minutes, producing something that was for me.
As a teacher, this has now shown me that this style of release is so important for us to be able to cope. We need to be able to pull ourselves completely away from the world we live and work in, and we need to be able to fully release our feelings in the rawest form. I think this study has allowed me, in more ways than one, to realise the full potential of art education, and creativity, to help teachers and students alike.
Now that this study has been completed, and the incredible impact this had on myself has been disseminated, it is so important to continue looking at, and completing research on the topic of mental health within the education system. Teachers need support in this area, as well as new coping mechanisms to help them, not only to stop them leaving their careers, but to help them realize how easy it may be to improve their mental health. Students need support to help them to continue their studies, understanding the struggles of life a lot more, and have the means to move forward from struggles they have.
The next step from this is to complete an almost identical study with both students and teachers, to look at the effects of art on their resilience as adolescents and educators on a larger scale. Alongside this, it is important to look into the fundamental problems within the education system, specifically the FE sector, and look at what improvements can be made to help adolescent and teacher mental health.
The main question I wanted to ask myself in this study was: Does art help? Yes, it does. It helps more than I think this study shows. I think it helps more than any study will ever be able to explain.
“Indeed, that’s what creativity, whether its poetry, pictures or music and whether you’re witnessing or creating, does best: bypassing the thinking mind and going straight to the heart, with the power to move and touch a person in a way rational argument can’t,” (Tes, 2018).
Jennifer teaches Graphic Design BTEC L2/3 and Art at Joseph Chamberlain College. Jennifer is taking the first MA in Art and Education at Birmingham City University.
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