I love a good Friday as well as the next person, but last Friday couldn’t come soon enough. The reason was simple: 3:00 pm on Friday marked the beginning of our Winter Break.
This year, I am fortunate enough to be able to get to a place of sun, but for many years, I spent the week at home, relaxing and catching up on odd jobs. Every errand I ran, however, resulted in the same conversation…”Must be nice to have the week off” or, even better, “Must be nice to only work half the year.”
If you are a teacher, you have heard the conversation and have felt your emotions range from apologetic, to irritated, to outright anger. I get it, in a way. After all, one of the perks of teaching is the built in, scheduled vacations. It is nice. It’s also necessary. Teacher burnout is no joke. In a recent pamphlet distributed by NYSUT, burnout is defined as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.” Exactly!
Many sources rank teaching as one of the top ten most stressful jobs. If you’re not a teacher, I can see how that might seem puzzling, even over-dramatic. But teaching is not a job you leave at the door. I have been teaching over 30 years and I still cart home papers. They haunt me all weekend long. Yes, all teachers are supposed to have a planning period, but for many, this “free period” is taken up making copies or helping students or making parental phone calls. Very rarely can I get a significant percentage of my correcting done in the course of my regular school day. Quite honestly, the job is never done.
And for many, there is financial stress associated with this profession. People don’t go into teaching to get rich; if they do, they were tragically misinformed. Many teachers find their vacation days quickly consumed by their second job. I know many teachers who do landscaping or paint houses all summer. Many more have a second job tutoring or bartending. Teacher pay can vary enormously among districts, but most teachers would struggle to help pay for their children’s college education on a teaching salary alone.
Additionally, much stress comes from students and parents and administrators. In a study by the University of Missouri, 93% of the elementary teacher respondants reported high levels of stress. The researchers then linked the resulting data to the behavioral and academic outcomes of their students. They found that high teacher stress levels were usually associated with poorer student results, such as lower grades and frequent behavior problems.” (http://neatoday.org/2018/05/11/study-high-teacher-stress-levels/)
It's true that teacher burnout is no joke. The stress of being a teacher is likely a factor in the current teacher shortage which will no doubt cycle back into more stress for the teacher who sees her class size grow to uncomfortable numbers. But what is the answer? From where I stand, the happiest teachers I know have positive friendships in the workplace. This may seem like a little thing, but it can make all the difference in the world. The work day of a teacher is a hectic one, but it’s clear that even a 30 minute lunch with your fellow soldiers can improve morale.
“…I retreat into my fictional world where everything makes sense—but even there I can’t even control what people do…”