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Pennywise again: What on earth has he got to do with teachers' wellbeing?

Steve Waters: Teach Well Alliance

If you don’t know who Pennywise is, most of your older pupils will. Pennywise is the scary clown in the film ‘IT’, based on Stephen King’s novel. When he turns up, which he does every 27 years, red balloons also tend to materialise, floating disarmingly through the air. Since the film’s release, a number of people have dressed up as Pennywise, worryingly turning up in all sorts of public places, and red balloons have been tied to drain grids – you will understand why if you have seen the film.


Pennywise concentrates on scaring and threatening a group of adolescents (who, incidentally, give remarkable performances and make the film much more than just a horror movie). Members of the group are also bullied by older college kids, so they have a lot to cope with.


Clowns have a track record of being both unsettling and frightening – there’s even a word for an irrational fear of clowns: coulrophobia. While they’re supposed to make young children laugh, many children don’t find them funny. They shut their eyes or turn away when they see images of clowns or people dressed as clowns.


And that’s why Pennywise has something to do with teachers’ wellbeing. You see, teachers can be afraid of looking at their mental health and wellbeing because they are scared of what they might see. They push it to the back of their minds, turning their heads away and trying to ignore how scared they are of what they will find. So, they block it out and keep going until…they can’t keep going any longer.


This reaction is not confined to individual teachers. Unfortunately, it can also be found in the reaction of some school leadership teams who are afraid of asking staff about their wellbeing because of the implications of what they might find. They are like a group of filmgoers turning their heads away when Pennywise and his evil grin appear on the screen, pretending that, if they don't see him, he won't exist.


But, like Pennywise, you can’t make the poor mental health and wellbeing of teachers go away by pretending it doesn’t exist or refusing to look at it. At some point, it will emerge, come out in the open, be seen for what it is and threaten the school community.


And, unlike Pennywise, it won’t take 27 years to make its appearance.

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