Once upon a time, quite a few years ago I was asked to help look after a student teacher who was on teaching practice. Unsurprisingly, I was delighted that someone would teach one of my classes for a few weeks! As I read her details I wondered how I could possibly help this massively-qualified, former banker, TA officer, mother of three who clearly had star quality. And when I met her and saw her in action I was almost in awe. She was a natural in the classroom, loved teaching and although we’ve lost touch I’m sure has given much to many over the intervening years.
I remember well our first conversation because she confessed she left banking to follow a calling but also to escape the overt sexism and quarterly pressure. She asked about the stresses in teaching. It was clearly a key issue for her. At the end of her time at school we again talked about stresses in the profession, a topic she knew I was interested in. Although we focused on the stresses neither of us thought they outweighed the sheer joy to be gained from teaching. Life is never all perfect after all we thought.
Here is a summary of the sorts of stresses we felt existed in teaching at the time, in no particular order. I give them as questions to promote thought but also because I wonder whether some are valid at all today? Have I over-emphasised things? Under-emphasised things? Missed things?….
- Just how demanding on the emotions can challenging students and “difficult” classes be? What effective techniques are there to “control” classes?
- What support is there available and accessible for those students in need?
- What support is available for staff who are in need?
- Can the observation of lessons by other people, especially by managers, governors and external agencies such as Ofsted Inspectors, ever be stress-free? Can the pressures felt by an impending inspection be reduced in any way?
- Does anyone ever consider not just the teaching load but also the overall workload including the amount of preparation and marking done and the pattern of the work through the week?
- Are managers truly in touch with the demands of teaching today? Do they understand what it feels like to teach a full timetable today? Do they consult adequately? Do unrealistic demands feel imposed? Do managers support their staff sufficiently? How do managers show they care and support their staff?
- How do staff support each other? Do cliques exist amongst the staff – for example is there understanding and empathy between those trained in the arts and those in the sciences; between the more traditionally ‘academic’ subjects and the ‘non-academic’ ones (this division most certainly existed in my schools and as a mere Geographer I certainly was told where my subject stood in any pecking order!); between the more natural cynics in the staff room and the more optimistic ones?
- Is there any resentment for those colleagues off on long-term sick leave? How are these supported by their colleagues?
- Are parents fully aware of how to behave and communicate with the staff? Are formal parent evenings well-scheduled and well-organised? How much training is given to staff before they enter into potentially difficult one-to-one meetings with parents? What support is given to staff who have to face, or have faced, violent, rude, and/or overly-demanding parents who are quick to reach for the formal complaints procedure?
- What is the expectation regarding reply times to emails from managers and parents? Is it realistic? Do managers lead by not sending emails after, say, 7.00 at night?
- Are there school-specific things that frustrate? For example I read reports last year of schools where there were no separate staff-only toilets. This sharing by pupils and staff meant that staff felt they were never off duty and it presented difficulties with sanitary products especially for menopausal teachers due to their irregular periods at this time.
- Are personal issues ignored at work? Stresses here will impact elsewhere. Does the school offer support for those with difficulties outside the school (whether it’s with relationships, children, parents, illnesses, financial, issues associated with ageing, self-esteem for example)?
- Is there a feeling of futility in what is taught? If so, can it undermine a person’s feeling of doing good and of being of value? For example, is a knowledge-based education system outdated today with such fast, easy access to knowledge via improving AI machines and the web? Should we not be trying to help our young people be distinct and help them develop their sense of empathy, teamwork skills, community identity, and self-esteem? Are these not going to be more valuable in the future than knowing facts and figures?
- Is there increasing standardisation in the way we are expected to teach? Is there a lack of room for the individual style of “quirky” teachers? Does this matter?
- Is there is a lack of clarity about the role of education in our modern (and future) society? Is it for the individual or the wider body? Is it to act as a filter in some way based upon academic criteria?
- Has the arrival of new technology into the classroom brought its expected, stated or hoped for benefits? Or just more anxiety for those who feel out of touch with it, maybe even intimidated by it?
- Has the assessment, recording and reporting element of teaching now become over-emhasised? Has its frequency, style and value reduced education to box ticking? Does it offer a too-narrow view of success to students and society? Are schools closer to exam factories than before and if so, does it matter?
- Has there been a growth in the number of roles teachers have to play? Do professionals in the classroom now have to wear a greater number of hats such as mental health nurse, careers guide, motivator, disciplinarian, social worker, comedian? If so, is this a bad thing? Or are we doing what we have always done but with greater expectation from society?
- Has the frequency of changes in syllabuses, examination styles/systems brought confusion and uncertainty rather than clarity and surety?
- Are more teachers bored by teaching the subject they love because they have a sense of losing the freedom to explore and go into real depth?
- Is there an increasing lack of ability to develop supportive relationships in the staff room? Have shortened breaks, increased workload and less space in schools for general staff rooms meant less time and space for interaction between colleagues? Is there less interaction between staff especially between different subject specialists so less discussion in depth of teaching, students and learning/life from differing angles? Are we using the wisdom of the older teachers as well as we could be? Are there fewer clubs and non-curricular activities for teachers to enjoy sharing enthusiasms with others?
- Just how much staff training is truly valuable? How much fires up the staff?
- Is there less job security than in the past? For secondary school teachers is there pressure to get the numbers to enrol in their subject and to get “good” results so that their subject will continue to offered or not? Have the loss of teaching assistants and specialist support services hurt the quality of teaching?
- Is there an increased emphasis on money and running a school as a business? How have the increased pension costs to schools impacted? Has the financial need to keep children in school increased a reluctance to exclude some?
Are these questions valid? Do the areas mentioned lead to stress? I would love to know your thoughs please leave a comment and let me know