During a discussion about stress in teaching a relative of mine stated that in her non-teaching job she dealt with rude, argumentative people every day and that my stress was no different from hers. I let the argument go because there was no way she was going to give on her point. The point I was going to make though was “Does your job deal with exactly the same people every day for 192 days? Does your job deal with people who you are hoping will change or at least see what you are talking about?”
I liken the stress of teaching to the stress of a family argument that never goes away. You try different ways to resolve the issues but they still keep coming back no matter how much headway you make. Your students have a different perspective on each problem. Their parents have a totally different perspective. Your administration has another perspective that may vary with those held elsewhere. All this continues to build as personalities push at each other in a way that children in a family home do. Something has to give and often it is the teacher.
On top of this stress there is the stress of non-supportive administration, an ever changing curriculum, the need to meet the needs of all the students in your class, performing social work and psychological counselling on a daily basis as well as keeping up with a never ending supply of marking, evaluations, the expectations of giving more and more, extra-curricular activities that take time away from family and ever present marking, and preparing for pressure ridden government testing. And this is only the tip of the ice berg. Most of these things we were not trained for or if we were it was touched on briefly. Most of our learning comes from on the job experience. Student teachers are constantly amazed at how much we do on a daily basis. They cannot believe the breadth of the job that teacher training barely touches on.
How do we solve the problems of stress and teacher burnout? We can’t solve it because it is inherent in the job. It comes with dealing with students every day. It comes with each teacher’s having different expectations and different ideas about what rules should be followed. It comes with administration, who either never wanted to work in classrooms or dealt with burnout in their own way by removing themselves from the daily grind. Administrators have a different set of issues because of the pressures they face from their administrators at the board level and parents.
The resolutions come from taking education away from being a commodity. Not every child will be going to University or College. Children need to explore their world around them and learn about the things that interest them. This will lessen the stress level as we are seeing and treating children as individuals, allowing them to be more respectful and engaged in their learning. We need to defocus on curriculum. As someone said to me recently, “Learning Shakespeare is nice but what is the end result of using it?” Why are we teaching kids about things they may never use again in their lives? Change the curriculum to allow more interaction with the world. A child whose father is a welder may want to learn more about welding. Encourage children to be entrepreneurs rather than users. Chase social issues so the children can learn to be more compassionate. These changes will lessen many of the issues we face in teaching.
We live in a world that is constantly changing. Let’s change education to face the realities of today.