Teachers worse off than the general population

Teacher’s Health and Well-Being Worse Than The General Population

Image by Grae Dickason from Pixabay

An independent Health and Wellbeing Survey of New Zealand Teachers lays bare what we already know. Many teachers are struggling. (conducted by Deakin University, 2019, on behalf of NZEI)

By Samuel Kett

As a society, who do we want guiding our children on a daily basis? Burnt-out, stressed, overworked, depressed, unhealthy adults with family conflict and financial issues, or; energised, collected, hardworking, fulfilled adults with a healthy work-life balance? Isn’t it just nuts that we even have to ask this question? Although most teachers are working their @rses off and doing their best to provide an engaging learning environment, unfortunately, for many students and parents, our teachers are battling. Though, you may not notice; as indicated on the survey, overwhelmingly, compared to the general population, it is much more of a necessity for teachers to conceal their emotions in order to cater for the needs of others (students, parents) on a daily basis. Unlike an office job, a teacher cannot just get up from their desk for a breather. 

Work Demands

This recent survey clearly shows that the demands on teachers at work are much more challenging than the general population:

Quantitative Demands – The amount of work and the time available to complete that work to a satisfactory standard. 

A relatively typical day:

  • 8am – 8:55am – Attempt to prepare for the day as students roll in
  • 9am – 10:30am – Teach 
  • 10:30am – 10:50am – Duty
  • 10:50am – 12:30pm – Teach
  • 12:30pm – 1:00pm – Lunch
  • 1:00pm – 1:25pm – Duty
  • 1:25pm – 3:00pm – Teach
  • 3:00pm – 3:15pm – Road Patrol
  • 3:15pm – 4:30pm – Meeting

Teachers are then expected to fit all of the following into their day: planning, extra curricular responsibilities, assessment, marking books, checking and responding to emails, communicating with parents, writing reports, finding or designing resources, documenting behaviour and learning needs, organising field trips. There’s more too. 

Emotional Demands – Being confronted with others emotions at work, students, parents, colleagues, superiors, subordinates.

This is really flippen complex. Guiding students in this regard is especially rewarding, but it’s incredibly taxing too

Work Pace – A measure of the intensity of the work.

Days do generally fly by, in some ways this is good, but I find it makes it very difficult for teachers to be mindful, enjoy the moment, and truly be present for the students who really need them to fully be there. 

Demands for hiding emotions.

I can’t think of many other jobs where you have 30 young people all depending on you for the day. What a privilege, however, as teachers it’s ingrained into our psyche that the students’ needs come first, and they should. In saying this, the students need a mentally stable teacher, a fulfilled and glowing teacher. We owe it to them to be in a good headspace, and if we’re not, we’ve learnt to be fantastic actors. 

Health and Well-Being Data For Teachers

Teachers are dealing with more burnout, stress, sleeping troubles and depressive symptoms than the general population. Not only is this terrible for the teachers themselves, but surely, this cannot be good for our students either. Don’t we want people who are thriving to be guiding our students?

“The root cause of burnout is not that we have too much to do. It’s the feeling that the things we do aren’t meaningful or don’t reflect who we really are.”

Dr Ayala Malach Pines, quote from Fewer Things Better, by Angela Watson. 

I think the above quote sums things up quite well. Teachers don’t mind being busy, however, a large proportion of a teacher’s time is spent doing things that are either mind-numbing, emotionally draining, incredibly complex or even completely uninteresting. 

What can we do? Time Time Time Time Time Time Time Time 

Financial rewards that match the demands of the job is obviously still a huge work in progress for teachers, however, more important in my opinion is simply giving teachers more TIME. TIME to do their work, away from their students. Right now many morning teas and lunch breaks are taken up by duties, many afternoons are taken up by meetings or duties. Could we start by allocating teachers 1 hour per day, free, to do their work, or whatever they need to do to get themselves, prepared and in the best possible headspace to do the best for their students. 

Teachers should be given TIME during school hours (9:00am – 3:00pm) to:

Plan, prepare resources, get a coffee, mark some work, work on something they are passionate about, just sit, breathe or meditate, pop out of school to run an errand etc. This then frees teachers up in their personal time to spend time with family, pursue an interest, read, learn, grow, thrive!

In a lot of schools, teachers are expected to fit individual student assessments into their own time too.  The options tend to be; either try to assess students individually while managing a class of students, or use your mornings, or very rare release time to do this. Woh woh woh woh woh! No, no, no, no, no! For these kinds of tasks, extra time should be provided. 

How?

I’ve said a lot about the what, but haven’t really addressed the how. Firstly one of the greatest lessons that a coach of mine taught me was; just focus on What you want, if you worry too much about the how, you’ll confuse yourself and never get going. I love this! How’s can be figured out, but firstly, we need to come to a consensus as a society about the what. The what is: Teachers need more time to do their jobs properly and be the best versions of themselves. 

Some possible ideas for solutions

  • Employ more teacher aides and learning assistants to share the workload
  • Have more whole school or grade level events and learning experiences where not all teachers are required to attend
  • Create incentives for other professionals to move into teaching, try to double the number of teachers
  • For primary schools, have specialist subject teachers P.E, Music, Art, these teachers can take your students and give you release time
  • Have administrators and senior leaders take responsibility for more of the morning tea and lunch duties in the school

Finally, teachers also need to be part of the solution. Teachers who are struggling need to search within, focus on the parts of teaching that bring you joy, and accept that in some aspects you’re not going to be perfect and that’s OK. Don’t compete to be the hardest working teacher. Instead work on being a well-rounded, healthy individual who has time and energy to be truly present for the students everyday. 

In Short

I continue to be really confused as to why our education system does not prioritise the health and well-being of the people expected to deliver the curriculum and guide and support the next generation. I’m so freakin mind blown why more people don’t see or at least acknowledge how vital it is to prioritise our teachers well-being for the sake of our students. How could one not see this obvious link? Clearly, this survey, conducted by Deakin University on behalf of NZEI (see the full report here), has once again brought to light the desperate situation we find ourselves in. Lets start by demanding that teachers are given more release time each day to fulfil their responsibilities and bring the best version of themselves to their students each day.

Your Turn

Having taught both internationally and in state/public schools, I have noticed a huge difference in the health and well-being of teachers. In most international schools, teachers are given far more release time. Whether you’re a public, private, or international teacher, I would love to hear about your battles as a teacher, or your general thoughts on the findings in this survey. Please comment below, it would be great to start the conversation now.

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