Sunday, October 28, 2018

Kim Frencken: Teacher stress levels rise

Nine out of 10 teachers suffer from high levels of stress. That’s like 90%! Well, it is actually 90%. But can you imagine any other profession with numbers this high? I can. Surgeons.

Think of the responsibility sitting on the shoulders of surgeons. Lawyers. They have the responsibility of making sure that criminals pay for their crimes and innocent people go free. Pharmacists. They have the tremendous responsibility of making sure you get the right medication. Pilots. This should be obvious. They have to safely land the plane.

Teachers don’t seem to be in the same category. Not even close. 

We tie shoes, teach kids to add, subtract, and read. We have every week-end and summer off (Please don’t shoot the sarcastic messenger!). We rarely work nights. We get to give hugs and high fives daily. We have the privilege of teaching tomorrow’s leaders. Stress? That shouldn’t even be on the radar. But. It. Is. In record high numbers. And they only seem to be creeping higher (if that is even possible).

I believe that stress can be attributed to two major factors. Lack of support and lack of discipline. Teachers love their careers. They choose to teach because creating lessons is a welcome challenge, learning continues to intrigue them, and they thrive on building relationships with children. Teaching is a calling. Not a job. Not a way to make a living. Teaching is a choice because there is nothing else they’d rather do.

So, again, if teachers are that passionate about teaching, why the high stress? Imagine trying to accomplish your goal with a new challenge or roadblock every day. That roadblock could be an angry parent, a chronically absent child, a change in testing procedures, a new administrator, a change in school policy, or one of a million factors that can change on a daily basis. And usually do.

Someone once said that teaching was like trying to hit a moving target. That was, and is, so true. 

Teaching isn’t just walking into a classroom with a smile plastered on your face, being greeted by 20 or fewer smiling faces eager to learn, and walking to your car at 3:30 every day. In fact, teaching isn’t that at all. Some days the smile is real and some days fake is all you can manage. You put your game face on and enter the room. 

Most classroom sizes exceed 20 by 5-10 more students and many of our students need basic needs met before they are ready to learn (if they ever become ready to learn). Leaving at 3:30 is a myth. When teachers finally exit the building, they are usually moving slowly under the weight of numerous book bags containing their homework.

Teaching requirements change every time someone in a suit has a brilliant idea (brilliant is a stretch of the imagination). Teachers are rarely, if ever, consulted. We are expected to stop on a dime and do an about face at the whim of someone who has never taught. Sometimes these experts come in the form of something called Parents. Parents like to tell teachers how to do their job. They may not have experience or education, but that doesn't stop them. They feel that their suggestions are a golden nugget to their child’s teacher. Granted, parents do know their child. At home. But kids are different at school. And at school, teachers know kids. 

We are also trained to know how to best teach children. This is when administrative support would be nice. Unfortunately, this is when most of those administrators can eat their before-school-starts-words. 

The words about supporting teachers. Teachers know, in August, that the words are meaningless. They know that when it comes right down to it, they will be left standing on their own. They also know that administrators will be retracting their words about supporting teachers in discipline situations. 

 I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard an administrator say they’ve got my back. What they really mean is my back is a target. Sure, I can send a child to the office and they will talk to the child. But, I can bet my paycheck that the classroom disruption will be back with candy in hand to announce to the class that the principal didn’t do anything. Yes, part of this is false bravado. But part of it is truth. Candy doesn’t lie. Misbehavior is rewarded. Consequences are lacking.

Teachers know that saying something only increases their problems. They’ll earn the label ”Troublemaker” and end up on an island. They know that the problem is not just at their school, but is sweeping across the nation. They know that some years are more stressful than others. They know that administrators come and they go. They know that, in spite of the stress, there is nothing else they can imagine doing. So… teachers silently let their stress levels rise.

(For more of Kim Frencken's writing and information about her educational products, check out her blog, Chocolate For the Teacher.

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