I often hear people moan about teachers moaning. The general consensus is that teachers have a shorter day, work less hours in a week, earn a higher than average salary, and have a more relaxed career, yet still manage to moan more than most. I think it’s time we investigate what all the moaning is about.
Firstly, this idea that teachers have a shorter day than usual needs to be officially nipped in the bud. Yes, school finishes around 3 or 4pm for many, an hour or two before the average working day. But the misconception that a teacher’s duties end once the school bell goes still remains a mystery to me. This notion conjures up the image of a little helper who magically creates engaging lessons, activities and assignments for six to nine classes per day. Not only this, assessments are graded, grades are managed, after-school activities are organized, yearly and termly plans are devised, continuous assessment is controlled, and everything is stored in neat little bundles for easy access. Not forgetting these are only the administrative duties of a teacher. Apart from this, the little helper must ensure you are enthusiastic, innovative, inclusive, allow for differentiation, incorporate technology, and ensure top-of-the-range classroom management. While this little helper sounds extremely attractive, sadly he is make-believe.
So what is the real story behind teacher stress and well-being, and are teachers more stressed than ever?
51% of Teachers Facing Severe Stress
A survey conducted by Teacher’s Assurance on the stress and wellbeing of teachers was commissioned “in order to better understand the overall stress levels of teachers” and how these stress levels impact both their professional and personal lives. The study revealed that the factors affecting teacher stress were generally contained within the brackets of financial, personal, workplace and health concerns. Out of those surveyed, every single teacher admitted to suffering from some form of stress, with a staggering 70% rating themselves as 5 or above on a 7 point scale. Interestingly, the highest proportion of teachers who placed themselves within the ‘unbearably stressed’ category were of the age of 61 or above, where 11% rated themselves as experiencing the highest possible levels of stress. An overwhelming 76% of the teachers who took part in the survey further revealed that their stress levels were having negative repercussions on their health and lifestyle, 79% of whom were aged between 31 and 40.
With such surprising figures blatantly revealing the harmful stresses of a career in education, what is causing this detrimental hinderance on the well-being of teachers? While we may have pinpointed a few in the first paragraph, the survey provides a lot more answers.
In general, the study found most teacher stress to stem from four main areas: financial, personal, workplace and health worries. When teachers were asked to identify any other factors that may act as a source of stress, 82% felt that there were no other contributors.
In relation to financial worries, 50% of respondents identified that they were facing either severe or average stress as a result, with just 19% suffering from no financial stress whatsoever. Financial worries were uncovered as the main burden of many teachers surveyed, causing more stress to the profession than either health or personal worries. Much of this stress may be down to recent changes and cuts in relation to teachers’ pension benefits and the current economic climate. Personal worries proved themselves to be among the least contributory stress factors for teachers with 62% revealing they felt slight or even no personal stress whatsoever. Similarly, in relation to health concerns, 72% stated that they felt either slight stress, or none at all.
Workplace stress proved most detrimental to teachers’ wellbeing overall, with an overwhelming 51% of teachers admitting to severe levels of workplace stress, and a further 39% admitting to average levels of stress. In addition, just 1% of teachers claimed they were not suffering from any work-related stress, less than any other category.
Jayne Morris, resident life coach for NHS Online Health and a professional stress and well-being expert provided her thoughts on the impact of such high stress levels on both teachers themselves, and on the overall economy. “The findings of the recent study conducted by Teachers Assurance highlight that the significant majority of teachers suffer from stress, with 83% of teachers reporting that due to stress they constantly felt tired. Fatigue is incredibly detrimental to a teacher’s ability to carry out their work effectively, which in turn negatively affects the quality of their teaching.” She finishes by stating, “The experience of stress in the education system can no longer be ignored.”
With such overwhelming stress levels being recorded in the workplace, surely this challenges the public misconception that teachers have it easy. More importantly, it points to a rather large problem in our education system. With teachers more stressed than ever and struggling to keep up with the demands of 21st century education, their health and well-being is negatively impacted. This not only results in extreme costs to the economy with teachers being forced to take numerous sick days per year, but on a deeper scale, it hinders the education of our youth. Without the enthusiasm and resilience that teaching demands, student achievement is sure to suffer. Another factor outlined by the survey that requires immediate attention is the level of stress suffered by teachers over the age of 61. This could be due to a number of factors, one of which is sure to be keeping up with regular changes and increased technology integration.
So how can these issues be tackled in an effort to preserve the productivity of our education system, and in turn our society?
Working Together to Form Better Solutions
Firstly, the stresses felt by educators resting under the umbrella of “workplace stress” are many. Whether it’s maintaining control in a difficult classroom, trying to motivate students that have given up, attempting to engage every student on a personal level, or merely keeping on task with planning, preparation and management, a teacher’s responsibilities reach far beyond the classroom walls. Time management is one of the biggest challenges facing 21st century teachers, attempting to juggle a personal life with the constant demands of state, school, class and student. If more time were allocated to planning, preparation and administrative duties each week, these demands may not multiply ever so quickly and teachers may reclaim some control.
Secondly, with so many older teachers feeling the strain of keeping up with modern teaching and technology integration, it’s important to reassure them that they are not alone. I am positive that many younger teachers feel the exact same pressures, and the reality is that every teacher is being asked to upskill without being given the necessary training. If this is to continue, not only will we further ostracise a major driver of our education force, we will push teachers to the point of no return. If teachers were provided with the necessary training and guidance that is required to keep up with this ever-changing landscape, regularly updating their skills and expertise, especially in relation to technology integration, we could not only lessen the divide between generations of educators, but further encourage a collaborative work ethic, constantly evolving to meet the needs of every single student.
Lastly, the constant stream of negativity surrounding teachers has to stop. While many understand and praise the work of educators, there are just as many, if not more, who choose to ignore and further belittle that work. Bringing the teaching mantra to the fore, it’s essential that we, as a society, start working together to create better opportunities for our youth. In an economic climate that expects so much more, yet offers so much less, to our young people, a collaborative effort is imperative to maintain a positive influence and to encourage the most productivity possible. As teachers are well aware, we feed off negativity, but we also do the same with positivity. While this may sound slightly over the top, I do believe in the power of positive community engagement. I think something society often forgets is that we are all educators in one way or another. Whether teaching our children, students, colleagues, friends, sisters, brothers, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins, or elders, we’re all educating with one shared goal in mind: Creating a better present and future by encouraging and nourishing minds. Get society working with, rather than against, teachers and we may see these stress levels drop, and student achievement rise. Watch this space.
Fishtree wants to help take the stress out of teaching by providing engaging resources, fast lesson planning, and tracking student progress and performance for you. We also want to help empower teachers by urging educators around the world to connect through our #PDfun Challenge! Find out more and get involved by following us on Twitter!
About the author:
Lorna Keane is a teacher of French, English and ESL. She specializes in language teaching and has taught in second and third-level institutions in several countries. She holds a B.A in languages and cultural studies and an M.A in French literature, theory and visual culture. Subscribe to her blog or follow her on Twitter.