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You're Not a NUT, But.....


Today was the deadline for encumbering budget money. This week there are two after school meetings to be attended at the far end of the county. I am working on guest blogs for Public School Insights and the Center for Teacher Leadership . Over at Teacher Leaders Network we have a couple of group projects that I want to be part of. In the meantime, the last mid-quarter interim reports go out Wednesday. Our kids are prepping for the state assessment tests so I’m working around remediation pull outs and field trips. A colleague cried in my office today and two of my students had issues that involved family members and jail. Since I’m pretty stressed out myself this week, I could relate when I saw the headline Stress of Term Time is Putting Teachers' Mental Health at Risk, says NUT.

Great! Now some reporter is calling educators a bunch of nut cases? But wait, the NUT was in England. The article went on to say

Half of all teachers have considered leaving the profession due to stress, citing the long hours, excessive workload, lack of support and poor pupil behaviour, according to the National Union of Teachers (NUT). In addition, a large-scale HSE survey found teaching to be the most stressful occupation in the UK, it said.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Seems it’s not all Eton, Harrow, and Hogwarts over the pond after all. But the Brits are not alone, there are stressed teachers Australia,Taiwan,Latvia, Africaand the Pacific Islands. In fact, my search for teacher stress produced 36,800,000 links.

Are tea sipping teachers in England symptomatic? Are educators a bunch of whiners who can’t cope? I keep searching and stumble on to the Teachers.tv site and discover their How Stressed is Your School? series. This isn’t just about teacher perception or soft psychobabble. It’s hard quantitative medical evidence and multidisciplinary research. Teachers wear biometric vests which provide a live feed of blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperatures as they go through their instructional day. Psychological surveys probe into what teachers perceive as stress and what they believe helps them cope with stress. Even genetic factors that predisposed one to high stress, due to cortisol, the stress hormone, is investigated. I really need to go to bed, but this is fascinating! I’m hooked and I can’t stop eavesdropping on what’s going on with the teachers at Kings Langley—a formerly failing school that has been reorganized. I’m staying up too late again and slugging down Diet Coke for a caffeine fix. More stress! But I keep clicking to find that

Teacher stress is a much talked of phenomenon, however, there is little consensus between different professional groups regarding its aetiology, or how to tackle it. Based on a review of international research, it is concluded that teacher stress is a real phenomenon and that high levels are reliably associated with a range of causal factors, including those intrinsic to teaching, individual vulnerability and systemic influences.
Surely there's a silver bullet among all of these sites, but instead I find "
So how can educators handle all of this stress? Unfortunately there is not one answer. Oh dear, that was stressful! So I go back to TeacherTV for some help from their Stress Relief for Schools series. One of the more interesting aspects of all of this is that there really isn’t one answer--managing stress is a complicated combination of biology, life experience, and reflection. However, it would appear that a person’s ability to manage stress may be one of the more critical factors in teacher success.

This takes me back a recent conversation here at TM with my teacher colleaguesNancy Flanagan and Anthony Cody. When TM editor Anthony Rebora queried,

The recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher , based on a comparison to past surveys, found that teacher satisfaction has increased markedly over the past 25 years. Has this been your impression? What do you think accounts for the change?

I said, "It does surprise me that teachers feel better [about their work]. Could it be that while we are expected to have high expectations for student performance we might have lower expectations for our own work place satisfaction?"

More stress, but greater satisfaction: What has changed? Our circumstances? Our performance efficacy? Our coping strategies? Our expectations?

I keep turning the question over and over in my head. I don't know. But I do know that I need to do my yoga, take a nice soaky bath, and get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow’s another day in middle school, so I’m scheduled for full day of stress beginning at 8:20 in the morning. We're in the end stretch of the year and there’s too much to be done to schedule a mental health day!


You have hit a nerve with this one. When I look at many of the reform models for urban schools, they seem to have one thing in common. Ever-escalating demands on teachers. The idea that we cannot allow a single student to slip through the cracks is a wonderful one, but when it translates to each teacher being individually responsible for the well-being of all of their students, inside and outside of school, it begins to feel overwhelming.

It is routine for many schools to expect teachers to stay late every night of the week running after school tutoring and extra-curricular programs. Plus grade papers, plus contact parents, plus prepare lessons. It is little wonder that we have such high turnover rates.

And we teacher leaders are part of the problem! We are constantly pushing others to take on the leadership tasks that we have chosen to embrace. It sometimes feels as if we have bitten off considerably more than we can chew.

We need to find that ever-elusive balance between our work and our home lives. We each need to find activities and outlets that sustain and revive us. The best sorts of professional collaboration can actually serve to do both -- so that is the highest goal for me.

Hope you had a good night's sleep. I wonder, is what you call teacher stress any different pressure, etc. in other occupations? Did you come across any comparisons besides references to military service? Also, I wonder, have teachers chosen schooling of younger people, because they expected less pressure on teacher performance than in other occupations? We probably all know some who have.

What causes teacher stress? Well, duh?
1. Many high school teachers teach 150 students a day. One year a friend of mine had 180!! The mere challenge of interacting with that many people, let alone adolescents, would cause anyone stress. Add to that the need to discipline, plan, instruct, and grade papers. More stress. Add to that the pressure not to fail anyone lest the school's graduation rate look bad. More stress. Add to that interminable paper work. More stress. Need I say more? Observing any high school teacher on any given day will show why teachers are stressed.

What to do? Fewer classes per day (usually high school teachers teach 5 or 6 classes)with more planning time. Smaller class size. Much, much more clerical help. Help for teachers who have unruly and even dangerous students.

I could go on and on, but I will stop with this statement: Scholars are finally belatedly beginning to see that the most crucial factor in a student's success is good teaching. When we improve teachers' working conditions we may just improve the quality of their teaching and thus student performance! Suellen

Teaching was not my first job. By the time I began teaching at age 29, I had worked at a foundry grinding metal castings, as a bookstore receiving clerk, and as an interpretive aide at a regional park. Since I began teaching I have also worked as a research lab assistant and as a curriculum developer. None of these jobs remotely compared to the stress of teaching. Very few other jobs have stress that follows you home. As a classroom teacher I rarely closed the door and left my work behind at school. I had parents to call, papers to grade, and lessons to plan. And I never seemed to get caught up, even when I stayed until 6 at night.


It is nice to see some one in our area of teaching blogging. It takes so long to find information we can use under all the reg. ed stuff. As I read your post I now realize why I am so tired when I get home. It seems we have become the end all for everyone. Last Thursday was one of the more stressful days,one of my students decided not to follow safety rules on a sewing machine and ran the needle though her thumb. After walking her to the office,I returned to class and tried to continue to teach. I am so glad we are getting to the end of the year the stress of the job is really getting to me.

I came into tull time teaching in my 50's. I have worked many different jobs and types of businesses over the years, and have always been a workaholic. I stay late many times till 9 PM. I come early, the first in the parking lot. The thing that makes teaching stressful is having students that you feel like you are the last and only person who cares, and you want to give up. Add to this the time consuming extra paper work invoved if you teach special ed. I do a lot of professional developement always tryingto be the best I can be. The thing I've come to believe is we teachers need to demand descent working conditions ( breaks, descent lunch times, better pay), but most of all we need to put the reasponsibility back where it belongs. It belongs with the parents.

What educator is not stressed these days? I think this has been investigated and stressed often in education circles.Yes, we acknowledge the existence of stress in the education arena but then stress is everywhere, on every job, and it rears its ugly head at every turn where decisions must be made and where people must work together.It's a fact of life.

How much stress are you willing to allow in your life is the question.Limit the stress, pick your battles, and know that some stress is actually healthy and beneficial. For me, stress gets me moving.Nothing like a little stressful fire to help me get the ball rolling or to get the changes coming!

I challenge you to look at stress on the job in a different light.If you allow it to overwhelm, then you've got a problem. Use it then to your advantage. I offer that it can be the catalyst for much needed change or reflection on what you're doing or not doing to make your day (s) and night (s) brighter and healthier.

I assumed that once I left the classroom for an administrative position, the stress would be less. I could not have been more wrong! I do deal with the pressures brought on by stress in a differnt way.....I acknowledge it, refocus, and move on. Try it sometimes, minus the complaints, but with added momentum and renewed energy. It works!

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