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Education, Research on Education, SOSNZ, Teacher Health & Wellbeing, teachers, Teachers' Own Words

What is really stressing NZ teachers?

This is the first of a series of posts looking at the data from the full Health and Wellbeing Survey conducted earlier in 2016. Our earlier posts looked at the survey’s first 100 responses, but this series considers all 684 responses and looks at the written feedback teachers shared in the open comments sections.*

How many teachers are suffering from stress & anxiety?

Teachers report high levels of stress, with over 80% of respondents saying they felt stressed or anxious at work half of the time or more.  Over 35% said they felt this way most of the time, and a staggering 7% said they felt like this always.

Only three respondents said they never felt stressed, representing 0.44 of respondents.

wellbeing survey q 1 graph

What causes teachers’ stress and anxiety?

Teachers were then asked what they judged to be the main causes of any stress, anxiety or depression they felt due to work. A comments box was included. There were 2028 box ticks and hundreds of comments from the 670 respondents to this question.

 

wellbeing survey q 2 graph

Summary of the findings of Question 2

Clearly workload is a key contributor to teachers’ workplace stress with 79.4% of people identifying it as a main contributor. Pressure from Management was identified by just over half of the respondents, and Students’ needs and students’ behaviour were identified by 44.8% and 45% of respondents respectively.

Lack of support in school was identified as a contributor to stress by just over 31% of respondents; Changes in educational policies stressed over 28% of respondents, and ERO/audit  almost 23%.

Interestingly, the comments were sometimes weighted quite differently.

Workload

Overwhelmingly, teachers identified workload as a key issue, with 532 respondents ticking that box and a 29 comments specifically mentioning it as a concern.Comments included:

“Not enough time in the day to complete everything that needs to be done. Increase[d] load of paperwork and assessment.”

“Too many meetings… 3 a week…”

“The requirements for tracking student progress; reporting to parents; and engaging family involvement in student learning (to name but a few)…”

“The paperwork (sometimes in duplicate) takes over.”

“Too many tasks to complete in an eight hour day.”

“I feel stressed that I cannot be both a good mum and a good teacher because of workload and being exhausted most of the time.”

“Paperwork, meetings, balance of work and family time”

“When a 55-60 hour week is the exception, not the norm”

Alongside these and other general comments on workload, some specific areas were mentioned:

Professional Development: Comments identified Professional Development as a specific source of pressure, either because of the volume of it (5 comments) or because it is done and then never implemented (3 comments) which staff said left them feeling that precious time was wasted.

“…so little time to create meaningful lessons because of professional development. Always navel gazing and not producing results…”

“we do what is asked of us then it kind of goes nowhere”

“…our school doing every initiative going…”

National Standards and Testing: Also mentioned were National Standards and the volume of testing (11 comments) and fast-changing education policies (3 comments).

“Seemingly back-to-back testing”

“having to assign a below OTJ [Overall Teacher Judgement] to children at 40 weeks, when I know that they will be totally fine by 80 or 120 weeks, they just need a little more time”

“too much assessment of 5 year olds”

Management and Colleagues

A large number of respondents commented on the negative impact of colleagues, mentioning staff bullying (25 comments), poor leaders (16 comments), pressure from management, poor teamwork and disrespectful behaviour (7 comments) and overly negative colleagues (3 comments) as causes of stress and anxiety.

Comments on management:

“Not enough realistic support from management.”

“Principal blaming poor ERO report on teachers… Seeing colleagues depressed and talking of suicide”

“Unrealistic expectations from management that teachers say yes to because they are all scared to tell the truth.:

“We have a dysfunctional senior management…”

“Poor management … lack of communication, lack of follow up…”

“Bullying Principal who has systematically gotten rid of teachers who support the policies and work of the previous principal…”

“Bullied by Principal, DP and AP”

Comments on teams and colleagues:

“Leading a frustrating team…”

“Trying to work with adults who don’t want to change their practice.”

“Being made to feel inadequate by teaching colleagues”

“Workplace bullying”

“I am an experienced teacher… I have had derogatory comments… considered a ‘dinosaur'”

“Politics between staff.”

“… have an extremely difficult staff member in my team and am continually handling complaints from parents and other staff about [that person]”

Parents: Perhaps surprisingly, the factor most frequently mentioned in the comments as causing teacher stress was pressure from parents (35 comments), with only two mentions of the lack of parent support being an issue and 33 commenting on this. Comments included:

“unrealistic expectations from parents”

“pushy aggressive parents”

“…expectation from parents that teachers should be able to ‘fix’ students who are not meeting standards… that it’s not part of a parent’s role to assist students in their learning”

“parental gripes”

“Parents … not allowing their children to develop their key competencies”

“Parents not reading emails, paper newsletters or notice boards and then getting frustrated that they were not well informed.”

“Parent behaviour”

“Parent demands”

“Parent expectation/pressure/lack of support has also been a factor at times.”

“Overbearing parents”

Students: It is, perhaps, telling that student behaviour was very rarely identified in the comments as the cause of stress (3 respondents), with much more focus on concerns about meeting students’ educational, emotional and health needs adequately (over 20 respondents). Of these, eight specifically mentioned special educational needs, five mentioned lack of funding or resources to support students as being of concern, and three mentioned out-of-school factors such as poor housing and health concerns.

(This feedback should be considered alongside that relating to testing and National Standards (above), which also had at its heart concern regarding the impact on students.)

Comments included:

“It’s about the lack of adequate funding to resource the support systems we need.”

“We need a calm space in the school…that is manned by a counsellor for our students whose lives are just too challenging today.”

“5 students, 1 supported… others not diagnosed”

“…teachers are parenting, feeding, psychoanalysing children as well as getting the child to national standard”

“hugely diverse needs of my learners … never enough time to plan and deliver a fully differentiated programme…”

“No help for children who come from a terrible home life to school…”

“children with special needs or high learning needs taking ages to be diagnosed at CDC and even longer… before funding is available for extra assistance…”

“Social issues in families and the wider community”

“Having children with special needs who don’t get funding or a diagnosis quick enough to help support them.”

My thoughts on what needs to change?

Clearly there are many and diverse, often overlapping, causes of teacher stress and anxiety, but certain themes are evident. Workload is the most glaring issue, closely followed by internal and external pressures on teachers who do not always feel adequately equipped to deal with those pressures or supported in doing so.

Management, you should be querying your own practice and asking where you can make changes to limit stress and also build collegiality. make sure your staff are properly supported and not overloaded, and ensure PD is targeted to actual needs.

Parents, you must work with teachers. They cannot solve all of society’s ills, and it isn’t reasonable to expect them to do so. Also, bear in mind that they are at the mercy of systems and processes usually outside of their control. It’s easy to become frustrated with the messenger, but it isn’t productive. Most importantly, talk to your children’s teachers – form relationships, be present where you can – truly that is a huge step towards helping your child achieve the best they can.

Teachers, please support each other. Teaching can be the most collegial job in the world, and teamwork can be what makes a difficult work situation otherwise bearable. So actively build those relationships. Where you do have concerns, you can call your union’s helpline, contact EAP (if your school is a member), or call one of the other available helplines.

Whatever you do, please reach out for support. You are worth it.

~ Dianne

* Thank you to NZEI Wellington Council for providing financial support to allow us to access the full data set and undertake this analysis. 

Image of woman with red folders courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Related Posts on this Survey:

https://saveourschoolsnz.com/2016/05/04/stress-anxiety-and-depression-in-the-teaching-profession-part-1/

https://saveourschoolsnz.com/2016/05/07/sosnz-teacher-stress-survey-part-2/

About Save Our Schools NZ

"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi

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