Teacher Welfare – Do you ever say ‘enough’?

There certainly has been a lag between my blog posts and I am hoping to be more regular (aside: Maybe I should get me some All Bran? lol) in the future :0)

I am embodying the teacher that was mentioned on ABC Radio National last week – the one who is under so much pressure (self-imposed to a point, but always teaching profession-related) that she becomes stressed, disorganised and irritable. The negative consequences of this situation are not borne solely by the teacher – the students are significantly affected. It’s good to remember as teachers that often we are the only smiling face that young people see in a day. Often parents and employers are stressed, over-worked and therefore unhappy individuals. Yes, teenagers (and even younger children in primary) can make it difficult to communicate with them, or even to want to smile at them – but the fact remains that school is a place where young people should assume adults are going to care about them. So when we teachers are ‘stressed, disorganised and irritable’ it is our clients (our students) that suffer. And suffer they do.

I’ll digress (and divulge) just for a moment to reflect on a student in one of my classes. Let’s call her ‘Amy’. Amy is a difficult kid, her home life is tough and she gets involved with the wrong types of people. At school she’s often in trouble, especially with female teachers, and she finds most of the work pretty hard. The thing about ‘Amy’ is that she wants to succeed in life. She really does. When she comes in to class she comes in to learn, but when she comes in the door she brings with her school bad plus a bunch of emotional baggage. I am a disorganised person. I am highly motivated, passionate, enthusiastic, dedicated (blah, blah, blah) BUT – I am terrible disorganised. Oh, and I take on HEAPS of extra jobs because I want to spend my time learning and engaging with innovative practices. Sometimes I go into Amy’s class with my head and heart all puffed up with idealistic plans – I am armed and dangerous with expectations and outcomes, with dreams of student engagement, creativity and love for literature. Oh, and did I mention that this class is Period 5, straight after lunch and one period before the end of the day? Amy doesn’t want to do it. She doesn’t understand what we’re doing. She hasn’t got her netbook. She’s tired. So I get grumpy. I get disappointed. I start cracking a little at the seams cos the amazing lesson that I planned at 1am the night before is falling apart – I feel I am being hijacked by a 15 year old.

Hmm … I didn’t plan to write that last paragraph. I wonder if it fits with my train of thought (it certainly doesn’t fit with the title of the post ‘DER: Lunch and Learns’ … hands-on, teacher-centred Professional Development … this will be my next post, so look up) … teacher stress and the impact it has on kids? Yeah, it does – what I’m trying to say is that my stress manifests itself in the classroom when students challenge or resist my plan, my way of doing things. I know it’s not just me, and sure you could give me heaps of suggestions to avoid such teacher/ego-centric lessons … but what I want you to think about it how many times you’ve gone into the classroom weighed down by school-related business (reports, marking, TARS, rugby match prep, SRC, excursion planning, NA warnings, job applications, parent phone calls, incident report-writing, school musical planning, rock band co-ordinating, computer co-ordinating etc etc ) and just thrown your stress at the kids. Just dumped on them. It could be subtle. There are many ways that it presents itself. You put on a DVD and write a 500 word review homework task on the board, you hand out novels, tell them to read and not make a sound for the period, you hand out a really difficult worksheet and snap at them when they complain … or you set an amazing activity that you love (and would have LOVED to have been given the opportunity to do when you were at school!) and the complain or ask stupid questions and you snap – handing out detentions like candy. Is it just me? Please tell me it’s not. Please …

Would you like to test yourself?

Sooo … I fell into this post to talk about what it is that has been keeping me stressed, lol. It’s actually things I love and I have been told by many that I am a workaholic. I’m cool with that. What I’m not cool with it the possible negative impact it has on my students (not to mention my husband and sons) … I do believe that teacher welfare is an issue that is constantly overlooked. At the moment the DET is all abuzz with teacher PD – which is great, we need it. But we also need relief from face to face teaching in order to develop ourselves better, to be mentally well. We need to ensure that we are not responsible entirely for student welfare, behaviour difficulties, learning difficulties, sporting endeavours etc etc. These things are wonderful and as teacher we adore being involved in more than just the classroom aspect of teaching. But we do need to ask, when is enough enough? When are we allowed to say that we have too many responsibilities/duties without feeling that we are jeopardizing our chances of promotion in the future? Believe me when I say that I do not believe most/many teachers take on these extra roles simply for promotion – this is not true. I just have heard many talented young teachers express their fears that they are close to burn-out but feel pressured to take on more and more ‘roles’ within the school. When government funding for support teachers is decreased and classroom teachers become responsible for essential programs such as reading recovery, I think it becomes clear that a crisis in teaching recruitment will soon occur.

The welfare of young teachers, as well as our more experiences colleagues, must be a priority. If not, our future generations will suffer. They will spend their days and nights in the company of stressed and unhappy adults. This is not healthy – wouldn’t you agree?


10 thoughts on “Teacher Welfare – Do you ever say ‘enough’?

  1. I agree totally.

    Sometimes we need to STOP. Take a deep breath and remember that a healthy adjusted teacher with good skills is just as good for kids, if not better, than a stressed out, hassled, tired innovative, creative teacher.

    I am I said.
    I need to take my own advice on.

    I have had the breakdown that follows the stress you posted about. It has taken me 1 year to get back to post injury duties.

    Do your very best to not end up there.

    Value life as much as life long learning.


    • Absolutely – I would love to see programs/initiatives that target teacher well-being.

      Maybe next SDD can focus on that? I remember Darcy saying his SDD has massages and meditation. That’s smart thinking!

      Glad to see you getting back to yourself :0)

  2. Hi Bianca,
    I think stress manifests itself in many different ways. Some people deal with it better than others.
    While we need to be the best we can for our students, academic learning isn’t all that’s important in our classrooms. Its about the development of the whole child and resilience is an important skill. Learning to understand and recognise the needs of others, your needs included, is important for students. In some ways, even more so for those we say carry significant “baggage.” They need to learn and discover appropriate positive ways of dealing with stress. You can model that.
    But on to burn out; it happens. Often. I firmly believe rather than stop doing things you love its better to seek support from colleagues, PLN, a mentor. In lots of ways its another version of CCC (Connect Collaborate Create).
    Why? How? Because we connect with people who know what burn out is about, what it means to be a teacher, what it means to care about what you do and how you do it, what it means to want to grow and develop, to have a go.
    Then we collaborate. We talk, we share, we debrief, we discuss, we try, we have a go and talk some more, we take risks and experiment.
    Then we create. We learn to deal with things differently so that we feel good, we see what we do, how we do it, why we do it in a different light, we reflect and evaluate and work towards what we know is an optimum situation.
    But, the bottom line is, we all get stressed. I think its important though that you find a way(s) to make it work for you more often that it works against you.
    And, by the way, the fact that you care about the wellbeing of your students will certainly be evident to them. So don’t worry too much about that. The students know what’s what and who’s who, and they know you.

    • Funny you should point out the CCC connection. I was actually thinking about the ways in which my PLN support me and how better collaboration/communication can prevent teachers from feeling the need to reinvent the wheel. This is something I fear constantly – surely someone in the world has tackled what I am teaching before and had success, how can I connect with them and have them help me out?

      These ways of supporting one another w/in the profession are enabled by technology – just need to get connections clearer, stronger.

      Thanks for your comment, Jan!

  3. Completely agree!

    In fact, right now I am feeling that stress and pain and I’m thinking that I will be the meanest teacher ever this week but it’s not my fault! I have a debate on Friday, half-yearly exams to mark for half of year 9, reports to start writing, other tests to mark, and this week’s lessons to plan! So don’t ASK ME WHY WE HAVE TO DO THIS WORK JUST DO IT!!!!

    Oh… sorry… didn’t mean to have that rant.

    LOL. I’ll be ok on Monday.

    P.s. I have this theory that teachers are the only ones who don’t suffer from Monday-itis. I actually LIKE Mondays more than any other day because I had the weekend to calm down. Do you feel the same way?

  4. OMG one other thing. The other day my year 11 class upset me so much (they weren’t listening, and I had just spent all morning organising their assessment task) so I gave them their work and told them to do it by themselves, and then I sat down and would not speak to them. Terrible, right? I am a terrible person! (I told my HT about this; I’m not fired yet. The only reason I did it was because I knew they would do the work, and the sheets I had composed actually had detailed instructions…)

    But you know what? When I went home I found that one of them had sent me an email to apologise on behalf of the class AND to tell me that I’m appreciated!

    Kill me now! That was the sweetest thing ever! But it also pointed out to me how much they NOTICE if you are really angry or not. So in conclusion… I will be more calm next time.

    Confessions of an NST.

    • Hiba,

      I have done the same thing with my classes – as I mentioned on my post! It is human to react in this way but it happens more frequently when people are stressed.

      I love that your students knew that an apology was needed :0) Respect earned!

      Thanks for you comment!

  5. The Employee Assistance Program is a useful counslelling service that DET employees have free access to that allows telephone and off-site support. It is too often under-utilised.

    All of us, with Long Service Leave, should consider taking a 3 week block every couple of years to rejuvenate.

    However, it is the daily routines that keep us healthy and ready for the challenges of the day. Eating properly, drinking water, pursing our hobbies and sleeping well that keep the balance.

    Some people in the community can see what stress can develop in a job like teaching, others, and I can see their point too, see the holidays, hours and generous superannuation scheme many of the veteran teachers have access too shortly.

    Basically, the Buddha had it right and we need to, as professional adults, strike personal balance. What you say can make it more difficult for a colleague to sidestep the whirlpools of negativity that can develop in staffrooms. Keep being positive.

    I also recommend smiling and seeing the funny side as often as possible.

  6. Standing on the other side of burnout – I cannot stress loudly enough how important it is for every teacher to draw a line which says ‘this is enough’. I too am considered a workaholic and a perfectionist to boot. Last year I had a full time teaching load as well as a full part time Masters of Education load as well as Debating and Public Speaking Co-ordination, Tournament of Minds Facilitation of three teams and Year 11 Co-Ordinator. I also have a 6year old with Aberger’s and would e considered the breadwinner. I thought I was indestructible.Last year I also suffered two separate bouts of influenza, swine flu and persistent, resistant sinusitis which eventually required an operation. Seven doses of anti-biotics and steroids also resulted in a weight gain of over 15 kilograms which I am still failing to lose. The cost to my health, my finances and even my job security are obvious. My Principal intervened and radically cut my responsibilities in half for 2010. I am still smarting at this ‘punishment’ but beginning to see her wisdom and ultimately her compassionate care of me as well as a cynical reliance upon healthy staff. The world of teaching continues regardless of how much responsibility one takes on – rather – if nobody takes on such responsibilities a school will still run. There is a line between care and enthusiasm for student needs and your own self care. Teaching is an exhausting and overwhelming occupation, at times. I know that if I want to retire past the age of 65, that there are thirty more years of active participation still required. A tortoise approach to the race is sometimes the most successful.

    • I could agree with the Tortoise approach if it is a 21C Tortoise!!

      Being an RFF TL in a school often leads to a lack of CCC.

      I tried to be on all KLA teams,Technology, Welfare, also took on Debating, Tournament of Minds, Quizzzard of Oz..to try to be part of the decision making..to be part of the school but my teaching hours were increased-my admin decreased and I found I only ever had people come to see me after school with their worries.

      I found that I could not get enough work done…staying at school later & later each day – up to 7.30 each night at the end.

      I have really appreciated twitter for the chance to develop a supportive PLN with whom to CONNECT and COLLABORATE. I also now value the place of yammer for the same reason and that more specific advice is available there.

      Because I have had so many innovations that I have tried unsuccessfully to get implemented over the past 6 years and now we have some enlightenment happening, I find it extra hard to say “enough”.

      I am so excited to see us finally moving in a forward direction. This article and consequent reflection reminds me that it is really important to pace it out…as Darcy said “it is the daily routines that keep us healthy and ready for the challenges of the day” so I must adapt healthy practices to sustain the energy needed to implement all that is ahead.

      Stay well all 🙂
      (I adopted the smiley at the end of all my communication around 2yrs ago to try to keep up the positive attitude.)

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