The assumption was that I was well-paid and enjoyed generous working hours and holidays. What a cruisy profession, especially after surviving the first few years. After a while, there was little preparation. Just teach the same lessons year after year!
If principals and the community at large believe these myths, they are not only blind but also fools. If teachers are stressed, their effectiveness will be significantly diminished, staff morale poor and more days lost with sick and stress leave.
Even if school leaders do not particularly care for the welfare of their staff, surely they must realise that their school’s effectiveness and reputation will suffer if their staff are unhappy and stressed?
Recent research oulined by The Conversation (June 7) revealed that over half of Australian teachers suffer from anxiety and nearly one fifth are depressed. Around 18 per cent of respondents had symptoms that met the criteria for moderate to severe depression.
Nearly 62 per cent met criteria for moderate to severe anxiety while nearly 20 per cent had severe anxiety. Added to this, 56 per cent met criteria for medium to high severity of somatic symptoms. This is when the symptoms are physical and can include pain, nausea, dizziness and fainting.
Yet, we expect teachers to pastorally care for students who may themselves be suffering from stress and anxiety. Where is the pastoral care for teachers? Does anyone care that so many teachers leave the profession within their first five years? Do we care they are burnt out and leave with significant psychological scarring?
How prepared are preservice teachers to deal with the inevitable stresses they will face in schools? Excessive workloads and feral students and parents are just the beginning. Are they taught in their training courses about stress, how to deal with it and where to seek help? Are school leaders trained to help staff deal with the inevitable stresses that bedevil the teaching profession?
No one expects their job to be stress-free. Stress is part of life. But the distress afflicting many teachers must be addressed and not dismissed as part of the job.
It is callous to insist that if one cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen. The above research indicates our school staffrooms are in crisis. Blaming teachers for lack of resilience is a cop-out. Schools need to uncover the causes of staff distress and take action.
For my part, I remember my early years in the profession at a rural boarding school. My teaching load was 40 out of 45 lessons and I was on duty after school and in the evenings. It was an impossible workload and I was run off my feet. I am sure I was stressed, but actually enjoyed my adrenalin-filled days. Why? Because I was doing something I loved, felt valued and respected by my supervisors, parents and students, and had almost complete autonomy on what and how I taught.
I was trusted as a professional and enjoyed the challenge of trying to be an excellent teacher.
I accept that those were simpler times, but I wonder how many teachers in the above survey felt they were really valued by their schools and the community in general.