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 …
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?