I remember when I was a young teacher the frustration I used to feel when trying to explain to people the pressures of the work in my newly-chosen profession. Of course, the responses commonly were somewhere between gentle mockery and outright incredulity and almost certainly made reference to the enormous holidays that teachers enjoy! I cannot deny that fact that teachers have fantastic holidays but this year’s survey of average working hours in the UK confirmed once again that, even taking this into account (i.e. calculating numbers of hours worked across an en entire working year and then dividing by the total number of working days in a year i.e. 260 minus public holidays), teachers work longer hours than any other professionals including doctors, lawyers, businessmen etc. However, although I would sometimes use this argument with my gently (or otherwise) mocking friends as well as, of course, the age-old complaints about hours spent marking, these are not in my (now better informed) opinion the chief causes of the levels of stress in the profession.
Nowadays if asked, I would say that there are two less obvious areas in which teachers work a good deal harder than some lay people might imagine. The first is in lesson preparation: if a lesson is to be properly pitched, have the correct level and pace and challenge and be differentiated to the needs of individual learners ,while keeping pace with the demands of syllabus coverage, then one can easily spend as much time preparing it as actually delivering it. The second area is in the sheer amount of emotional energy that goes into managing so many relationships during the course of a working day. For an example from the far end of the scale, a secondary Humanities teacher in a large UK Comprehensive school might interact with as many as 220 children during the course of one working day; and all of these children come from different homes where there are different expectations from them in terms of their behaviour and values, they all have their varying emotional needs and sensitivities (or even troubles) and not only does the teacher have to manage his or her relationship with them but theirs with each other and all of this before we consider the relationships with colleagues and parents that also have to be managed….a recipe for stress there can be no doubt!
Now fortunately there can also be little doubt that our teachers at KISU do not face the same level of challenge in these respects but, nevertheless, they do get tired and yes, even stressed! I have been aware lately of a danger that energy levels might begin to drop so have tried to give staff as much support and encouragement as I can to help motivate them to finish the academic year strongly. However, I also have to challenge them in the interests of providing your children with the best possible learning experiences and so below is a list of questions that I asked them each to consider privately over the course of the week:
- When was the last time you had a lesson outdoors?
- When was the last time you planned a mystery for your learners to solve?
- When was the last time you asked your learners for formal feedback on your lesson?
- When was the last time you involved your learners in planning the learning?
- When was the last time you looked again more closely at your learning objective and refined it or broke it down into 2 or 3 more precise or focused LO’s?
- When was the last time you looked carefully at the attainment criteria for the top grade/level in your subject/year?
- When was the last time you planned a lesson specifically to tackle the skills deficit of a relatively small number of learners in the group?
- When was the last time you spent high-quality 1:1 time going through a piece of work with a student?
- When was the last time you brought an expert from outside into your lesson?
- When was the last time you tried something new?
I hope you don’t think me too hard on my colleagues; the truth is that many of them have been doing these things regularly and recently. From the responses I have had I think they valued being offered the challenge. However, in conclusion, please do remember that your children’s teachers are only human and what they do is a little more skillful and perhaps a good deal more stressful and time consuming than many folks outside the profession often realise, so if you get a chance this next week to offer one of them a little praise and encouragement, I can assure you it will mean the world to the recipient!