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problems with teaching


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HI Everyone,

I am a teacher who has suffered from depression for 10+ years. I have posted before on this forum and found the advice I received very helpful. I now would like to find out what other fellow teachers who suffer from mood disorders cope on the job. I have very limited experience teaching in Canada since I am an ECL instructor, so most of my jobs have been overseas. I did have one terribly negative and painful experience during my 15-week teaching practicum for my elementary teaching degree. I began the practicum in January of 1997 in London, Ontario. I was dragging my feet to the school and by the afternoon felt like someone had hit me with a baseball bat. My supervising teacher complained to the principal of the school about my "poor attitude, lack of enthusiasm, commitment..." and they terminated the contract. One week later I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and depression. The latter illness I had suspected for a month or two, but the former no idea. I had been abusing alcohol for years, which did not help matters. I appealed the decision to the teachers college but they took the side of the school.

In Asia I have been fired from 4 jobs. The first time in 1995. In this case I knew I was completely burned out since I was wearing headphones in the class, listening to music and tuning out from the class (high school). I was drinking a lot over the previous 3 years and had been experiencing panic attacks which were getting worse and worse. I would carry a small bottle of alcohol in my briefcase just in case I had an attack so I could run into the bathroom to chug it down and calm my nerves- I did this only once at school, but had made it a regular habit to always have booze on me, even when on my mountain bike when out cycling!

The second time was 2000. In Asia. Drinking a lot. I was unable to continue with my anti-depressants since I had been unemployed for a long time in Vancouver previous to this job, and could not afford the meds. The way I coped with the stress, anxiety etc. was alcohol. I had been off the Paxil for almost 6-8 months so I am not sure if I suffered from quick withdrawal, which I have read is not recommended.

The third time was in the Middle East in 2002. This job lasted only three months. I had no anti-depressants and was unable to drink in this country where alcohol is banned. I really had a tough time there....

The fourth time, is the last full-time job I had. I was let go in March 2008. I was brought before the associate dean of the department and the human resources manager to talk about the "grave concerns they had about my teaching performance." I did my best to defend myself and then disclosed to them that I was, though the college's EAP, attending counseling with a psychologist and psychiatrist, on meds, and told them about my history of depression. I asked for unpaid compassionate leave but was refused and fired that day. It really was a blow. I am still trying to put back the pieces of my life together. I live in Asia with my wife and two kids and there is not much if any support for people with mood disorders. I can buy my meds here. Sometimes I read this forum and get the impression that there is more recognition amongst employers in Canada that depression is an illness like any other, and employees should not be discriminated against.

I told a few people at work before I was let go about my illness. I am sure after I was fired that through the office grapevine everyone knows about my illness. What hurt a lot is that several other colleagues were granted compassion leave for various medical conditions, and the HR Manager was allowed to take time off for his battle with colon cancer.

For the two years I worked at this job I was mostly sober. I did have a lot of stress in my life in addition to the job, but became a father in Feb. 2007. I could feel myself several months before I got fired withdrawing from people-I would choose to eat in my office alone instead of going to the staff cafeteria. I had pretty much given up on the students since I felt I had bent over backwards to accommodate their needs and I was still getting so little back. For example, the guys would never bring their book, notes, pencils etc. to class. so I made the arrangement where I keep all their textbooks & notebooks in my office, then I would lug the 20-25 books in a bag, having to make two trips, to each class to ensure they all had their stuff. I got very resentful about this after a week or two and then said to myself, "they are all adults, so if they cannot do it themselves, I cannot help them..." I could go on with other anecdotes, but I am sure most readers will draw the same conclusion those at the college did; that I am not a good teacher, or unfit for that level. One supervisor who sat in on one of my classes just before I was fired said I looked terribly nervous. I disclosed to her my history of panic attacks and she said I should change careers. Indeed I had problems with anxiety in the classroom before, but during that stressful time of my life I felt even more anxious. I teach only part-time now and I take anti-anxiety meds which seem to do the trick.

I am still angry at my former employer since they made an allowance for one teacher with a drinking problem to take time off to enter rehab. Am I wrong or naive to expect that other teachers and supervisors should know something about mental illness in the workplace. I mean the college did have an EAP, so why have one if they can summarily terminate an employee without any kind of due process?


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I have been a teacher for 20 years at the elementary level. I have also battled depression for most of that time (severe for pat 2 years along with PTSD.) At times, I can hardly drag myself out of bed...not the best person to be responsible for 25 8 year olds. I am sorry that you have had such difficulties with your teaching career. I don't have any advice, other than to say that most teachers are like most other people. Caring and compassionate but not truly knowedgable about mental illness.

I hope that you can find help for your depression. I know that I tend to hit the bottle when things are particularly bad, but I know that it truly disconnected me from my students.

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