Teacher: More Than Tired

If you were my Facebook friend in 2017, who may have seen many Facebook updates about #1white who were my first ever class I called my own. They were 100% hilarious and 100% reallyflippinhard, and they literally made me laugh everyday and cry sometimes. 2017 was a really fun year for me which brought a lot of growth and confirmed that I had made the right career choice. It was the year I made some lifelong friends in my dear colleagues and it was a year that I really felt myself grow up from being a lady-of-luxury uni student and waitress to a professional. 

I started teaching in 2016 part-time at the same school I teach at today, so this year is my 7th year there and I adore it. I feel supported, and I feel totally backed and championed to strive. My colleagues and superiors believe in me, and listen to me. Teaching is what I feel like I was born to do, as corny as that sounds, but as much as I love writing, love dancing, love my artistic hobbies, nothing compares to the challenge and rush I get from teaching and seeing those ‘uh huh’ moments occur before my eyes. 

In Australia, an alarming 40%-50% of educators will leave the profession within the first five years of teaching. I’m so thankful I’m not a member of that percentage, but the reality is, we are not imagining the teacher shortage, nor are teachers and educational leaders fabricating the depths of demand that is 21st century teaching & learning. A family member asked me the other day why schools are so low in casuals, and I was honestly overwhelmed by the question because I could have given a TED talk about the reasons there are no casuals. Where does one even begin? But I think the general answer to that question is, because less and less people are desiring the teaching profession or are fit for it, which is resulting in less staff, less passion, and bigger classes. 

For many educators, it goes beyond a mere tiredness for the vocation. No mental health, sleep, healthy eating or physical health regime can override or even counterbalance the demand of the job for teachers today. Telling teachers they need to adopt stress management strategies such as mindfulness in their own time will not ease the pressures of leading 21st century learners. I’m not claiming that those things don’t help to create a healthy context or lifestyle to operate within, but they don’t change the job description, or the ever compounding responsibilities that teachers take care of. 

‘Educator’ encompasses a lot these days. In primary settings, we are nurses, counselors, detectives, mentors, mothers & fathers, safety officers, teachers of sports, teachers of the creative arts, teachers of science, teachers of mathematics, teachers of English and grammar, teachers of personal health, historians and, depending on the school, sometimes pastors. Enter stage left the ‘hidden curriculum’: if we aren’t pastoring, we are teaching kids how to behave ethically. Teaching them how to healthily solve conflict, teaching them how to be resilient, teaching them about decorum, teaching them how to make friends. We, by default, raise the whole child, even if we think the teaching we are doing really should fall to the actual parents of our students. But alas, much of the time the hardest and largest part of our job is teaching kids how to be good humans so that they can go out into the world equipped to operate within it while being kind-hearted. 

If this in itself wasn’t enough, we are also masters of admin. Reporting and assessing students on each of the key learning areas and determining where they fall against countless learning outcomes, per child. Differentiating our pedagogy (how students learn) depending on the singular student, making judgements about the degree to which they understand the content, relaying this all to parents in written and verbal formats, keeping record of who has a grass allergy or who is diabetic or requires daily medication (don’t forget that 12pm pill or epipen that needs to be sent outside to play!), reminding our 3 kids in our class who wear glasses to put them on, keeping data displays of who needs additional support across those learning areas, creating individualized learning plans for more and more students as more and more diagnoses come to rise, researching where to take the kids for the excursion, head counting all day, keeping track of who is here and not, and this is all before any type of student wellbeing issue pops up, such as a conflict or challenging behaviour. 

We keep up with the ever changing research landscape of education and how students learn best, changing what we have done for years to a new strategy because that’s allegedly the best way to do it now, keeping up with how to push learners to be motivated or interested, being boxed in continually in how to teach, in some ways, being robbed of our own creativity and autonomy. We are in constant communication with 30 sets of parents, keeping up with what’s going on in our students’ family lives (deaths, births marriages, birthdays of humans and pets!) which could be impacting their learning. We lighten our students cognitive load which burdens and increases our own, all in the name of education. Feeling overwhelmed yet? No kidding. It can begin to feel as if being a good teacher is a job to difficult to accomplish. Too big of a task, too high the stakes. I love being a teacher but I think that some days, it is impossible. 

This is all before you fall ill due to a student sneezing into your mouth (it’s happened to me a lot, I’m not exaggerating). Teachers dread becoming sick (the nature of our job means we are exposed to a lot of sickness, like nurses) because, if we have to take time off due to being contagious, we are faced with creating to-the-minute day plans while sick IF the school can resource a casual, create a Plan B plan of our class is split, and then deal with and mitigate the (hopefully) unintentional guilt-tripping and complaining of parents who become concerned when their child’s usual teacher is unavailable. Societal expectations of teachers are out of whack a lot of the time. We are flipping amazing, but we too, are human. Also, if you send your kid to school sick, we will get sick, and then not be able to teach your kid. Just sayin’.

Teacher mental load is not actually that different to parent mental load, because us teachers fall into the category of loco parentis for children, which translates into ‘stand in parents’. I think if a teacher’s brain was scanned using an MR image during one lesson, it would look like the Carols in the Domain broadcast during the finale. Too many tabs, and you have to hold in that urge to use the bathroom because you’ve got a meeting with a parent before class starts and a recess duty. 

Through my current studies I have taken part in research of how other countries view, priorities and value their educators, and the comparisons drawn between other countries and Australia are alarming. In Finland, teachers are trained for as long as a doctor of medicine. They are highly esteemed within their country’s society and teachers at institute levels are listened to when it comes to school improvement because the government accepts that they are the experts. The days of face-to-face learning are shorter, leaving more time for teachers to prepare lessons, mark work, and create programs across their actual working day and hours. Lastly, Finland’s students (both boys and girls) outperform many countries across literacy and numeracy, being among the top performers in these areas globally. Teaching in Finland is an appealing profession because their conditions are simply better. These aspects combined beg the question, what can we do here in Australia to create better conditions for teachers and students to get the most out of the profession for each stakeholder? Education being ‘a faulty system’ is not an issue for every country, so why is it faulty here, in a first world country?

I’m not quitting. I’m not even close to quitting. Partly because ‘mama didn’t raise a quitter’ but also because when you put the politics, bureaucrats, diagnoses, funding, cranky parents and even those people who believe teachers are overpaid (yes, they exist) aside, you have a child who has a right to education. And even if I reach a single child in my entire career who I have touched or impacted, I can say that for me, it was worth it. I’m fighting because I want good teachers there for my kids. I want to be surrounded by teachers who believe their voice and time is worth something to the students they teach.

Listen to teachers. That requires you to not speak. Don’t speak for a teacher. Don’t correct a teacher on their beliefs around pay, workload or opinions, because quite honestly, you have no idea. The teachers are the ones on the floor, literally. They are the ones advocating for your children. Just believe them when they say the system is faulty, because it is. Take them at their word. People don’t just leave jobs let alone complete industries for no reason. Especially masses of people. If you wouldn’t question a nurse’s complaint about being treated fairly, please don’t dismiss a teacher’s