When I was a young teacher, probably about three or four years into it, my then principal, Bob Marlow, said that if you weren't shattered every Friday night you hadn't done your job properly. A full on week would be full of all the things that teachers do: maths, reading, writing, art, topic studies, PE, music, drama.... being creative and inspirational.
It seems though that in the last few years things have changed. The government policies have been invaded with GERM, the expectations of parents have been inflamed by government propaganda on 'the crisis in education', teachers just keep adding more to their responsibilities, management focus on data and improved student outcomes, higher recognition of societies woes such as poverty and inequity....
All of this compounds on teacher workload, job satisfaction and wellbeing. Work/life balance for many teachers is now seriously out of balance, and this is having a detrimental affect on their physical and mental health, and impacts on how schools run and children learn as a result.
@66_pixie put the challenge out to me first that the picture I had posted represented teacher burnout, followed by @traintheteacher on how the "Superhero narrative needs to stop".
But spending time with friends and family is important. It is what makes me a better me and means I'm not always talking work stories - sometimes I have "I got up to mischief" stories!! That's why the other Friday I went to the musical despite the fact I was bone tired, and why I went out for a blow out night with my teacher friends on Saturday.
I am writing to thank you for teaching me so much about education. I have been a primary school teacher for 14 years and have always worked in challenging, inner city schools with many children who have complex behavioural and emotional needs. According to my performance management, I am an ‘outstanding’ teacher. I feel that over the last few years my skills have diversified conside...rably.
I am proud to be able to say that each year my pupils’ achievement and attainment have improved. I have become skilled at pinpointing what they need to learn and prioritising their experiences to ensure they succeed in the core subjects. Sacrifices have had to be made but, despite what they would like you to believe, there is not a single pupil who has not wanted to achieve and be successful.
The last few years in particular, my job has become even more varied. As we no longer have any external support and advice to help us, we have learned ‘on the job’ how to be councillors, behaviour specialists, social workers and mental health workers. We use our instincts when dealing with children with complex emotional and behavioural needs. We do everything we can, but you never can tell without the training. Hopefully those children experiencing extreme difficulties will pick up how to become good citizens and be able to live within, and contribute to, the community. I can only hope that they will know how to create a supportive and nurturing environment for their own children to succeed in the future. Maybe they will feel confident and proud of their achievements despite the lack of professional, quality specialists available to support their own complex needs in their formative years.
Until recently, I was not adept at data analysis. I now know that the pupils we are teaching are not simply children, they are numbers, percentages. The hours I have spent analysing data to decide which children need intensive afternoon intervention groups, those who need that extra ‘boost.’ Those children do not take part in the afternoon history, geography, art, science, music, PE or RE lessons as they are struggling with maths, reading and writing. They understand that they must miss out on subjects they are more likely to engage with, feel confident in, so they have the opportunity to achieve the required level in writing, reading and maths. They spend all day, every day struggling. Slowly feeling more and more like a failure, becoming more and more disengaged.
It is amazing that every one of my pupils knows what level they are working at and what level they need to be at the end of the year. Children are so desperate to achieve and to please others that they naturally put themselves under a huge amount of pressure. If they are not working at age related expectations they believe they are not doing well despite the amazing progress they have made. They are in tears. They feel the pressure. They know they are not where they ‘should’ be. They know already, at primary school, that they may not be ‘successful’ in the future. They know that the only subjects worth anything are reading, writing and maths. They know that their options are limited.
A big part of teaching is, and always has been, acting. You draw your audience in; encourage them to take part and to be inspired, challenged and enthusiastic about what they are discovering. There is nothing better than a class full of buzzing pupils, excited about what they are learning, taking ownership of the lesson. This is becoming increasingly hard to achieve when we expect so much from them. There is little time to have fun, to enquire, to be intrigued, to be children. They have too much pressure. They must, “compete with the world’s best.”
Why are we not letting them grow as individuals? Why are we damaging their self-esteem and confidence by trying to make them all fit into the same box? To ensure a successful future for our country we need to give children a broad, balanced curriculum which enables everyone to excel at what they are good at. They need to feel empowered and valued for their individual skills to be able to take risks and push the boundaries to be successful. How is that possible if they have had a restricted education? How will all those talented people who are not necessarily ‘academic’ excel in their different industries if they were not given the opportunity to hone their skills throughout their education? How will this improve our country? What sort of adults will they turn in to? I know I never had those pressures when I was a child.
I handed my notice in last week. I can’t do this to them anymore.
What a loss to the teaching profession and learners in the UK.
I thought it was written by an NZ teacher also.
- We just have to accept sometimes we aren't a superhero and it just is not humanly possible to get everything done.
- Our families (including friends and pets) have to come before work most of the times.
- We have to be good time managers.
- We have to embrace and use the word "no" when required.
- We need to keep the lines of communication open with our senior leaders/management.
- We need to set special time aside for children/partners/specific family members or friends.
- We need to have supportive families who understand the psyche of being a teacher.
- We need to be aware of the impacts of government policies and how they will affect our job satisfaction and workload.
- We need to be able to take action if government policies negatively impact on how students learn and how we teach.
- We need to embrace sleep, exercise, leisure and hobbies to make us more interesting people and to keep us happy as humans.
- We need to have people from outside the profession who will listen to us whine on about how hard teaching is without rolling their eyes at us too obviously.
- We need a colleague who we can confide in about issues within our ckassrooms and schools, who will commisserate and/or provide advice or another point of veiw.
The post on Save Our Schools NZ's Wordpress blog, Dear education minister, please don't send your condolences, showcases the letter written to Mr Gove in the UK by a widow after her husband, a teacher, died aged 37 from a stress induced heart attack. Another post from SOSNZ, Teacher stress, depression and suicide, points out some rather scary statistics and also some sound advice on what to do and where to get help. Teachers are amazing people who carry in their hearts so many people, and in their minds they have a to-do list that would frighten you. It can easily become too much too quickly in the wrong environment.
This article from Scotland, Severe workload pressure is 'damaging' teachers' health and well-being, according to a new survey, (20 May 2014) is damning when Only a third (33%) said they would recommend teaching as a career and only a quarter (26%) said they feel very well, health-wise, in their job. In New Zealand this NZCER survey last year reported,
"More than a third of secondary teachers think their workload is so heavy that they are unable to do justice to the students they teach and morale has dropped more than 10 per cent since 2009, according to a survey of 1266 secondary school teachers." (New Zealand Herald, 3 July 2013). And in March the NZ Herald's article Report card for our schools said: "Principals and teachers continue to enjoy their work, but reported becoming over-stretched - morale in both groups slipped since 2010, with stress levels increasing. A third of teachers thought a high workload prevented them from doing justice to their students, and continued to lack the opportunity to observe the teaching of effective colleagues."
Another blogger, Boonman, in his post Workload and other stuff, discusses the causes of workload and how this workload may inadvertently result in the charterisation of education in the UK and/or NZ.
As a teaching profession we will fail standard if we don't set the standard for workload, job satisfaction, work/life balance and our own well being. We have to be proactive in ensuring that we are a healthy profession physically and mentally and that we will stand up for our rights as professionals to ensure our students will have the best education possible and will grow to be well rounded members of our society.