Teaching as a profession is in desperate need of an overhaul, but for the sake of the teachers, not the students.
I can no longer count how many times I’ve been part of conversations about the fact that we are never caught up with our work. Of course things like planning and assessment are ongoing, but we are getting less and less time to fit these in.
Across the board, there are more and more tasks to complete that are ‘essential to good teaching’, or are expected of us in some other sense. These things come into play right from day one, and we very quickly become swamped with things to do. This isn’t restricted to teachers – I’ve had many conversations with middle and senior leadership throughout the years and they are feeling the same.
There are so many box-ticking exercises that seem to hold little real value for busy teachers. Things like differentiation planners are great in theory, but when staff are so busy with other work that they don’t have time to use them effectively, they become a waste of time. Meetings for the sake of meetings, to deliver information that could be disseminated via email or other means. Endless paperwork to justify the need for and safety of things like excursions and equipment, just in case something goes wrong and someone wants to sue. Extra-curricular activities that the staff are not volunteering for out of personal interest, but are required to do to ‘fill a gap’. Transferring information between different forms, into different formats, or into multiple copies of essentially the same document. All of these things take time and energy away from actually planning and delivering lessons. Sure, some of them are ‘supposed’ to aid in planning (like the differentiation planners), but when teachers are not given extra time to do them, they just add to the workload instead of adding to efficiency.
The reality is that we are never really catching up, never truly getting on top of anything. It seems like people think teachers have all this extra time, and that that time needs to be filled with ‘tasks’, instead of letting teachers plan and deliver great lessons. Planning a lesson can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours, depending on factors like experience, knowledge, complexity, length of the lesson, resources available, and the class dynamic. I lost count years ago of how many lessons I’ve thrown together in a hurry, knowing they are not the best they could be, because of a lack of time.
I’m sure you all know how much time teachers spend of an evening or weekend working. To say teachers only work 9-3 is a dangerous, hurtful lie. I’d be interested to see the actual hours teachers work over the course of the year, and how that compares to the standard work week
We’re all chasing our tails trying to get everything done, and that means there are things that are going to slip.
Except teaching is a profession where very little can slip – we are educating young people and preparing them for lives as adults. If something slips, it could make a vast difference in the life of the students. But try as hard as we can, the lessons are still not turning out as good as we’d like, the assessments aren’t being adjusted as well as we like, simply because we don’t have any more time to dedicate to them.
It’s really no wonder outcomes are slipping – teachers are exhausted and burnt out. Even when they seem bubbly and on top of everything, it’s often an illusion. Laugh or else you’ll cry, right?
Often times teachers will let their personal lives slip instead of anything to do with work. Gym sessions, watching tv, having dinner with family or friends, these are the first things to go. Next come things like personal hobbies that we love, cooking healthy meals, and spending time with significant others or children. Eventually it ends up affecting relationships, family dynamics, and our mental and emotional states.
I can guarantee that every teacher out there has taken at lease one sick day purely to recover from the stress of the job and to try catch up on work. Taking a day off work, to stay at home and work. Using one of their 10 annual sick days, to do work.
It’s reaching a crisis point.
I’m sure you’re well aware of the ever-lowering teacher retention rates. It’s becoming a job that loses it’s appeal within the first few years, and often not because of student behaviour, but because of the workload. That’s not to say people go into teaching expecting it to be a 9-3, and even if they are they learn very fast that it isn’t that type of job – those people tend to exit the profession very quickly. For the rest of us who understand that, it can become a vicious cycle of trying to not burn out. You start at one school, love what you’re doing, get more and more added to your workload once you’re settled in, burn out and decide that it will be better at another school. Then the same thing happens. Then again. Eventually you become so disillusioned and burnt out that there is no other option except to leave the profession. And you leave feeling like a failure because you couldn’t take it.
Saying that these teachers just ‘don’t fit this school’ or are being selfish or lazy in any way is unacceptable and unfair. If the workload is so high that it is affecting mental, emotional, and/or physical health of a person, then the workload needs to change, not the person trying to cope with it. Often a temporary solution is offered, such as having a lesson supervised for you so you can work. But that’s only temporary and may only help with one small aspect. Next week there will be something else. Saying we could spend more of our personal time to do this work is incredibly insensitive. Why should we?
So my question is this – if everyone is feeling overwhelmed, and we keep getting more and more aspects added to the profession, why are we trying to suck it up? Why are we working longer hours, giving up weekends and holidays, giving up our health?
Why are schools not looking at the reasons people are leaving, the reasons people are becoming overwhelmed, and trying to fix them? Why aren’t we building capacity within the work week to actually be effective?
Why, as a profession, are we letting this problem become so much worse?
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.