Exhausted teachers clinging on for the last few weeks, tapping out reports at home on your dining room tables, this poem is for you.
I sat down to write this and had to start over many times. I’m not sure how to go about explaining why I left teaching in a way that doesn’t come off as judgy, or blamey or a woe-is-me tale. I suppose many educators feel like this.
Teaching seems to be the one profession everyone feels qualified to have an opinion on, seeing as we all went through a school at some point. When I first started teaching, I had creative license and freedom to plan my days with my class. If a kid turned up with a story about how the cat had had kittens that weekend, we could embrace that teachable moment and spend 20 minutes talking about mammals and pets. If I had a few chapters left of the shared novel, we could shift something else and finish it off if we liked. As time went on, this freedom of professional judgement was eroded.
Classrooms now are full of swaps for different subjects, children leaving for extra curricular activities during the day, or specific times to access valuable resources (like computers, libraries or sports equipment.) I don’t want to seem ungrateful, because I love that children have new ways to learn and new environments to do it in; I just wish it hadn’t come at a cost to teacher’s time and our ability to use our judgement on what works for our children.
I worked in a school where we had a large space for co-operative teaching, where the syndicate swapped children around based on their levels. I can imagine some people’s eyes glazing over, so I will try to paint a picture instead.
Imagine a large hall-like space with three teachers in different areas, each reading with a small group of children. Scattered around are more groups of children, some on laptops, some on tablets, some with board and card games, some sitting in corners together working in their exercise books. You might imagine its harmonious, a buzz of children learning, both independently and supported by teachers. Unfortunately, for the majority, this is not the case.
The teachers with those groups have about 15 minutes to get through their reading, before swapping to another group in order to meet and assess them, meeting them all over a week period. Questioning, checking, hearing children read, explaining and clarifying, and all that intense learning that happens in a guided reading situation. But one of those kids forgot their book in the other class, so they have to run and get it. That’s 2 minutes gone. You can’t really start without them, or you’ll be repeating yourself. You look over and see the group that have an ipad activity to do are actually on maths games – you get up to intercept and move them back on task. Over in the library corner a group of children who are meant to be reading and working in their exercise books are clearly off task, but that first child has returned with their book- and now you’ve only got about 10 minutes left before you need to change the rotation, so you call out to one of the other teachers (also trying to get through the guided reading) to check on those off task students, well aware that you are cutting into their time too. You sit back down and go over the learning intentions and begin to get into it, when a group playing with the games has a disagreement and an incident breaks out – so again you are forced to stop, to sort that out.
Rinse and repeat.
I could go on, but the point I’m trying to make is that this is JUST reading. You have maths interchange next, and then topic interchange. And you are on duty at lunch, and then there’s a staff meeting after school… Some days I would arrive at school before 7am and not get home till after 6:30pm, and that’s with a box of marking to do.
Now add into this those children with high learning and/or behavioural needs that can’t organise themselves, can’t cope with having a different teacher, or can’t manage being a “self directed learner”. And those who had a bad morning (or weekend) at home and are wound so tight that they might explode at any time. And the child who isn’t coping with social things and is isolated, and the mean kid who’s been hassling the outsider. All that social stuff is still happening… But somehow you have to set up the classroom for the next lesson AND find a minute or two to cram something vaguely nutritious into your gob.
As an educator 10 years ago you had the time to actually teach. Eventually I felt more like a person whose job it was to keep things running – even if that running wasn’t beneficial to the learning of the majority of the children.
Before I left teaching I was stressed, anxious and feeling like a failure every day. I had been assaulted by a special needs child multiple times, and was managing two volatile children with aggressive and violent behaviours, all while maintaining this modern idea of what learning should “look like” and spending so much of my time making sure I was collecting all the data for the children and planning their next learning steps, too.
There was no fun or fulfillment anymore. It was like failing every day.
I saw children who just wanted to be with the teacher, who wanted to learn, but who were being swept along in this seemingly never ending rotation of ‘new ideas’ and ‘innovative learning strategies’. Everything was measured and monitored because we also had data to be collecting for assessment and reporting.
I’m not for teachers becoming the facilitators of busy work to serve some ideal that is the current flavour of the month. I spent three years studying education, children, reading, writing, maths and everything else only to find my days as a teacher filled with behaviour management and making sure children are in the right place at the right time. And that’s not to mention teachers who are struggling with learning new technology and navigating these spaces themselves, all while still doing their regular job!
My personal experience was one that made me physically and mentally sick.
I continued to give 100% of myself because, like most teachers in New Zealand, I am passionate about children getting the best education and reaching their potential. But the system as it is, that actually destroyed me. I burnt out. I would wake up crying in the night for no particular reason. I would dread going to work again as soon as I left. Thinking about the unending cycle of planning, implementing, and hoping I got through what needed to get through – and that the children held up their end and did the work, and that there were no breakdowns in behaviour that would derail the sessions and cause me to have to cut out something else to ‘catch up’.
I burnt out. I damaged myself to the point where I will live with that for the rest of my life.
Our teachers are a resource. You can’t replace our care, knowledge and ability to teach with fancy spaces and new technology. Piling these expectations on teachers and children isn’t improving our system- it’s creating another rod for our backs.
When I studied post grad with a group of young people in their 20s, I was amazed at how poorly they managed themselves, and I wonder why we expect school-aged children to be able to do it?
There are so many complexities to the things eroding our teachers’ spirits and well-being- this is just a tiny glimpse, and not even the full picture. I could talk about disenchanted staff, apathetic senior management, poor resourcing, the social issues in school communities, negative and punitive assessments, and an obese curriculum. And, of course, under-funding of our schools and support staff. But I won’t, because we all have other things to do today.
Teachers want to teach. That’s why we became teachers! We want to have meaningful relationships with your child to help them achieve their potential. The education system in this country has moved away from allowing us to do that and morphed into something very different.
For more on a teacher’s daily work life, read this great post by Melulater.
Dear Mr Plested,
I had no idea that running a freight company gave one such insight, but since you clearly you know all there is to know about managing everything in the world, from trucking companies to education systems, I am hoping you will give me and my documentary making team permission to come and film at Mainfreight to see how perfect everything is there. So we can learn from it. Since you know everything.
We would like to do a one-to-one interview with you about your time as a teacher and principal, the pedagogies you use, your ethos, the professional development you have undertaken and your insight into child development. I feel we could learn a lot from you.
We would ideally like to film in the school you have running at Mainfreight and see the students in action. This will be inspirational for those poor teachers in the state system who don’t know what you know.
The mountains of evidence showing that performance pay for teachers doesn’t work (and not only doesn’t work but lowers student outcomes) needs to dealt to. Research is over-rated – all that peer-reviewed tosh! It’s time to show that none of that has any value by sharing your insightful reckons.
I for one am glad people like you are onto it. The education system needs more back seat drivers – that’s the very thing it’s been lacking all these years. Look how well it went when they handed all those English schools over to mobile phone execs and carpet moguls. It’s not like they had anything to gain from taking over all of those schools and taking the money that would have been wasted on students. Far better that it goes to businessmen such as your good self so that you can spend it on the important things like Vera Wang tea services, $1k meals and top-end Jaguars.
Let’s get this education system sorted. Get your people to call my people and we’ll Skype…
Dianne Khan & the film team
PS: It’s wonderful that you support experiments on school students, and I’m hoping that – as such an advocate – you will be happy to send your child/ren to the nearest charter school and let us track how they get on there in a fly-on-the-wall stand-alone doco.
Hurrah! SOSNZ’s investigation into the Teacher Education Refresh (TER) programme has got the attention of the Education Council, and Lesley Hoskin (Deputy Chief Executive of the Education Council) has assured me that they are looking into things urgently.
When I spoke with her, Lesley was very clear that concerns are being taken seriously and that EC is now aware that there are big issues. She said that EC will start by looking into requirements for itinerant teachers and relievers to undertake the TER programme, and will widen the net to look at the criteria in its entirety so that is can be applied fairly, reasonably and with flexibility.
It’s great that they listened, and great that PPTA and NZEI backed up the concerns we raised, but in order for improvements to be made, Education Council need your feedback.
That’s right, it’s over to you.
If you have done the TER, please send your comments to email@example.com or use the online form here. EC needs to know the positives and negatives, in particular regarding the criteria for having to do the course.
If you have not done the course but have concerns, you can also send feedback. Please make it as specific as possible so that the issues are clear. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or use the online form.
I am, of course, happy to receive your feedback re the TER and pass it on to EC for you (anonymously if needs be) but in order to get specific situations reassessed EC will need your full name and registration number, so please bear that in mind.
If you want to have your own situation assessed to see whether you have to do the TER course or not, also email email@example.com or use the online form.
When asking for an assessment, make sure you give them your full name and teacher registration number so they can access your files and get all of your details. This is the only way to get an accurate answer.
If you want to email Lesley Hoskin direct, she is happy for you to do that. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org,nz
Lesley informs the that Education Council typically responds to email within 48 hours. If you don’t get a reply in that time frame, check your email spam box, and if there’s nothing hiding in there please call the Education Council and follow it up.
We’ve now got the Education Council in agreement that the course requirements are not as they should be; to get things changed, you have to let those with the power to change things know what your concerns are.
You know the drill by now: email email@example.com or use the online form
Over to you.
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
Alerted to concerns, I met with a teachers as they completed the Education Council’s Teacher Refresher Course to get a sense of what they thought of the course and the need to undertake it. What I heard was unexpected and alarming.
$4,000. Four Thousand Dollars. That’s how much the 12-week refresher course costs. And that’s just for the course. I expected people to raise concerns about that – I’d already had a few on social media – but there were issues I’d not yet considered.
Yes the course is expensive, they said – but why? Compare it with the cost for the full one year graduate teaching programme – it doesn’t stack up, they said. So I did some research:
All of which begs the question, why it is $4,000 for a 12-week course?
It surprised me, too, to hear that attendees could not apply for student loans to pay for the course. Teachers spoke of putting the cost on credit cards or using bank loans, and of overdraft bills being racked up as costs mounted.
They also pointed out that in addition to the course cost, they’d lost a term’s wages, often had to pay for accommodation, had travel costs (many people were from out of town) and had had to pay for childcare (especially those from out of town). Suddenly the actual costs were far in excess of $4k… For a twelve week course.
All of which, many noted, might be just about bearable if you felt the course was necessary…
One teacher explained that he is an itinerant music teacher. He does no classroom teaching at all, working only one-to-one or one-to-two teaching musical instruments in a number of schools across a large geographical area. The schools he goes to, he says, are very happy with his work – indeed he’s been doing this for well over a decade and everyone was just dandy with the set up – the teacher himself, the schools, the students and the Teachers Council. Then came the Education Council (EC).
Suddenly, this teacher was told he must do the Teacher Refresher Course if he wanted to continue working in schools. “Why?” he asked. He explained to EC that he knows of many itinerant music teachers who are not even qualified teachers, and they were allowed to carry on teaching – so why couldn’t he? He was informed that because he had at one time been a fully qualified teacher, he couldn’t do as the other itinerant teachers and work under a Limited Authority to Teach (LAT), but had to regain his fully registered teacher status. Which means, in a nutshell, he is being punished for having once trained as a teacher!
It makes no sense. If other itinerant music teachers can be unqualified teachers and work under an LAT as specialists, then why can’t he?
This teacher doesn’t want to be a full time teacher or a classroom teacher of any sort. He doesn’t want to take relieving work. He has no wish to do any teaching other than the one-to-one or one-to-two itinerant music teaching he has done for well over a decade. Like his itinerant music teacher colleagues do.
So he has undertaken the Teacher Refresher Course to allow him to carry on earning his living – a course that was focused around classroom teaching, National Standards, paperwork requirements and so on – none of which applies at all to the job he does.
How does the Education Council justify that?
Still reeling from the mind-boggling bureaucratic nightmare of the music teacher’s story, I was approached by a teacher who wanted to speak about their situations as a reliever.
This teacher said she has no wish to be employed as a full- or part-time classroom teacher on a contract, content with working as a relief teacher. She explained she is much in demand, has regular schools that she’d worked with for years, and is up to date with changes in the sector such as National Standards. She’d been teaching for decades.
Prior to the change from Teachers Council to Education Council, she had been able to continue relieving year on year with no problems, but with the Education Council, everything changed. Now, she was told, if she wanted to carry on relieving, she must do the Teacher Refresher Course. No ifs or buts.
So she, like the music teacher, had done the course only to find it focused on things that really had little to no bearing on her work as a reliever. “It’s not as if I’ve learned anything I need,” she said, frustrated that she’d been made to jump through hoops only because of what seems to be a lack of flexibility in the Education Council’s rules.
What interested me with the above scenario was how the information she’d been given compared to the information I’d been given not weeks before by two representatives from the Education Council…
I was informed face-to-face in a room full of senior teachers and principals that I wouldn’t have to do the Refresher Course if I was going to continue “only relieving”. The EC staff were very clear that the Refresher Course was necessary only if I wanted to go back to an actual classroom teaching contract. I could carry on with my Subject To Confirmation status and still be a reliever. Yet this teacher had been told something entirely different and was now thousands of dollars in debt… So which information is right?
Just when I thought I’d heard it all – and I can tell you, my head was reeling by this point – I was approached by this lady…
She has been teaching for decades, too. She sustained a head injury towards the end of her teacher training and as a result has never been able to work full time. This means she never completed the two year induction for new teachers. As a result, the Education Council informed her she must undertake the Refresher Course and become a fully registered teacher to continue teaching in any capacity.
This woman has a brain injury. She can only ever work part time. She can only ever work at the most as a reliever. She is, she explained, unable to sustain what is needed to work as a contracted classroom teacher responsible for planning, testing, report writing and so on. She knows this, her schools know this, and all is well; She is a good reliever, with a number of regular schools that she’s worked for for years.
The Teachers Council would, at re-registration time, receive a doctor’s note explaining her condition and information from the schools she works with, and they would accept that she is a fully competent teacher in the role as part-time reliever. Teachers Council would re-register her. No problem. The Education Council, however, insisted on her undertaking the Refresher Course.
The course had been an enormous strain on her. It is full time, with in-class placements overlapping with research, essays and presentations in what is a busy twelve weeks for even an entirely well person. For someone with a brain injury, it was incredibly hard work. And yet, she was faced with either soldiering on at a potential cost to her health or not doing the course and losing her means of income.
Telling me the whole sorry tale, she looked tired, sounded exasperated, and had an air of defeat. “I don’t understand the reasoning,” she said. No, nor do I.
Everyone I spoke to accepted that teachers who never completed their two years as provisionally registered teachers would need a refresher course, having not had time to put their knowledge into practice and grow as a teacher after first qualifying. The course attendees I spoke to that were in those circumstances said the course had been beneficial and their only concern was the financial cost.
But those teachers who had no intention of being classroom teachers ever again and who usually had years (often decades) of classroom teaching experience felt the Education Council needed to look again at both the criteria for doing the course and the course’s content.
If itinerant and relief teachers are being forced to do it, then the course needs to reflect their roles and their needs. If competency is the issue, then the course must address their competency in the roles they undertake. At the moment, in many cases, it doesn’t – making the whole affair a very expensive and extremely frustrating farce.
27/7/16 – EDITED TO INCLUDE LINK TO ARTICLE RE EDUCATION COUNCIL WANTING FEEDBACK:
Details of courses and requirements: https://educationcouncil.org.nz/content/teacher-education-refresh-ter-programme
Itinerant music programme losing teachers due to Education Council requirements: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/81854579/itinerant-music-programme-losing-teachers-due-to-education-council-requirements
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.*
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.
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.
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.
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”
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”
“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”
“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 expectation/pressure/lack of support has also been a factor at times.”
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.)
“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.”
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.
* 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:
Primary school principals are enthusiastic about supporting a new charter guaranteeing a fair go for newly graduated primary teachers.
Many who get work at all are getting relief work or short-term positions, which often means they don’t receive the support and mentoring they need for full certification within six years of graduating.
NZEI President Louise Green said this was a concern, “because if we want great teachers for our children, teachers need to be well supported from the beginning of their career.”
The charter guarantees that any beginning teachers the school employs will receive the induction and mentoring support they are entitled to. The school also commits to never employing new or beginning teachers on a trial or otherwise illegal fixed-term basis.
“Signatory schools receive a certificate and window stickers to show they support beginning teachers. It sends a very strong, positive message to a school’s current and prospective teaching staff,” said Ms Green.
The Education Council and New Zealand Principals’ Federation have expressed their support for the charter. Positive conversations have also been held with the Ministry of Education.
Ms Green said the charter was about creating a shift in practice and awareness, but the long-term answer to a lack of permanent jobs for new graduates depended on the Ministry of Education undertaking workforce planning, which was sorely needed.
In this invited post – part two of a series of three – I summarise the global issues related to teachers’ well-being and present an analysis of the preliminary findings from a short, informal exploratory questionnaire from Save our Schools NZ about levels of stress, anxiety and depression reported by New Zealand teachers.
In my previous post, I highlighted the issues of stress and anxiety and some concern about the well-being of the New Zealand teachers. One of the most important support mechanisms provided by many schools is the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
EAP is a service supported by the New Zealand government to provide confidential counselling services and sources of information for staff from subscribing organisations. However, it is interesting to note that 77% of participants from this short exploratory survey did not know about the EAP, and some noted how even when present and known about, it was not effective as a source of support.
Most of us are aware how a certain level of ‘good’ stress is argued to be beneficial. But only when it is short-term and can be kept under control. The survey asked teachers what steps they usually took to reduce their levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Potential options included all the usual coping strategies promoted in popular self-help books, Apps, media and research.
87% of respondents said they “Try to carry on regardless”
Despite the high levels of stress and anxiety reported in these participants’ answers, the most common response (87%) was ‘Try to carry on regardless’. Other popular strategies were reported as ‘eating’, ‘exercising’ and ‘sleeping’ (42%, 40% & 44% respectively).
The responses from this short preliminary survey then are cause for concern: not only because so many teaching staff do not appear to have developed adequate coping strategies to deal with levels of stress and anxiety, but also because so many reported how they coped through ways that are likely to have an additional negative impact upon their health.
For instance, 23 of the 100 participants turned to alcohol for relief and 9 admitted to either smoking, self-medication or using drugs.
These preliminary results mirror not only the high rates of stress and anxiety evident in UK teachers, but also the coping strategies used in the UK, such as an over-reliance on alcohol.
When reporting how many days off taken as a result of stress, anxiety or depression over the past 12 months, the most common answer from participants was 0-3 days (81%). This may indicate the hidden nature of this problem in that staff are perhaps trying to ‘carry on regardless’ by coming into work when they could instead be focusing on their own health and well-being.
Asked how much time they had taken off work over the past 12 months as a direct result of the symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression:
When respondents were asked to rate their current school in terms of helpfulness towards supporting staff with stress, anxiety and depression, schools did not score highly, with only 14%described as ‘Very helpful’ and 5% described as ‘Very unhelpful’. This is of concern.
Is the long-term health of teachers in New Zealand is at risk? Perhaps it is when nearly half (47%) of these respondents reportedly had been medically diagnosed with stress, anxiety or depression and 55% had taken time off work as a result of these symptoms.
I would like to emphasise here again, the importance of just talking through our problems to a trained listener.
The questionnaire deliberately included appropriate links to helplines for those suffering from depression and needed support. A comprehensive list of information and helplines available can be found here.
~ Dr Ursula Edgington
In this invited Blog post – one of a series of three – I explore some of the global issues related to teachers’ well-being and present an analysis of the preliminary findings from a short, informal exploratory questionnaire from Save our Schools NZ about levels of stress, anxiety and depression reported by New Zealand teachers.
A recent report from a major UK teachers’ Union (NASUWT) illustrated the high levels of stress, anxiety and depression among the teaching profession.
Perhaps understandably, staff turnover is high, with many UK teachers leaving after the first year.
History shows the inevitability of audit cultures so prevalent in the UK and US influencing policy and practice in New Zealand, as indeed some already have in the form of National Standards and other initiatives . It’s the introduction of previously alien business models, including Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) within state provision services that creates challenges. So, do New Zealand teachers also suffer high levels of stress, anxiety and depression? And if their emotional health is being negatively impacted by their work, are the causes similar to those highlighted in the UK and elsewhere? To what extent does stress impact upon the individuals and the institution concerned and what could be learnt from the international research in this area?
In a very short survey, Save Our Schools NZ asked teachers: ‘In a typical week, how often do you feel stressed or anxious at work?’
Another question focused on some of the possible causes of this stress and anxiety. It presented a number of options based on the outcomes from other research data in this area and asked which of the terms best defined the main causes of the stress, anxiety and depression.
(The latter two causes were highlighted in the comments section as being as a result of teachers not feeling they had adequate support from their school for students with complex needs.)
Interestingly for me personally – because of my research interests – the lowest-ranking answer of all the choices provided was ‘Audit and inspection’ which often ranks very highly for teachers in the UK under pressure from accountability measures. In line with research by Prof Martin Thrupp, this potentially indicates a stark contrast between the negative impact of Ofsted on UK teachers’ lives and the more sensitive (if somewhat ambiguous) approach from New Zealand’s Education Review Office (ERO).
This question also had an ‘other’ comments box which revealed a series of other relevant issues: 10% commented that bullying – either from management or parents or both – was a major cause of their stress and anxiety. This links to commonly debated cultural issues of the New Zealand workplace, for instance the phenomenon of Tall Poppy Syndrome (something I’ve written briefly about elsewhere and will return to later.)
In conclusion, the outcomes from this initial survey indicates that stress is clearly having a significant, negative impact on New Zealand teachers, and perhaps warrants a closer and more in-depth investigation. For instance, how widespread is this problem and what are the lived experiences of New Zealand teachers?
– Dr Ursula Edgington
A survey of newly-graduated primary teachers has revealed massive underemployment and many beginning teachers in a state of stress, despair and debt.
NZEI’s New Educators Network spokesperson, Stephanie Lambourn, said there was a shortage of primary school jobs available and it was particularly difficult for new graduates, as not all roles were suitable for beginning teachers.
The Ministry of Education’s own figures show that just 15 percent of beginning teachers are getting fulltime, permanent teaching jobs.
Ms Lamborn feels fortunate to have secured a permanent role at Lower Hutt’s Avalon Intermediate, but many of her peers have spent a year or more unable to secure anything other than short-term contracts or a few relieving days.
“It’s incredibly stressful to have that sort of job insecurity,” she said.
“Even if a teacher gets a contract for a term or two to cover maternity leave or roll expansion, they are constantly having to look ahead and apply for new roles. They aren’t able to focus on giving their best to their class and are frequently missing out on the induction and mentoring they are supposed to receive as beginning teachers.”
NZEI Te Riu Roa surveyed 374 teachers who had graduated within the past five years or so.
Fifty-one percent of those surveyed reported that the requirement to reapply for positions had had a negative impact on their teaching.
Of those surveyed, 79 percent were provisionally certificated. Graduates have five years to gain full certification as teachers and this requires them to receive induction and mentoring from a senior colleague. When teachers are unable to get fulltime work, it becomes extremely difficult to meet the requirements of certification.
NZEI TE Riu Roa President Louise Green said the Ministry of Education needed to make workforce planning a priority and ensure that beginning teachers were getting the support they needed. Schools also needed to ensure that they weren’t unlawfully offering or extending fixed term positions to “keep their options open” when they should be offering permanent positions.
“It’s a devastating waste of their time, passion and money to earn their teaching qualification but not be able to get reliable work at the end of it – not to mention the wasted cost to taxpayers for their training,” said Ms Green.
“Many of our baby boomer teachers will be retiring in the next few years, and what will happen then? These beginning teachers can’t wait around forever and if they’re not getting the experience, induction and mentoring they need, who will fill the gap?”
Teachers face a never-ending conveyor belt streaming negative news and new initiatives straight to our desks, each new thing vying for our attention and time. What are we to do?
Do we focus on the latest research on literacy or the changes to teacher appraisal? Do we read the news story about the sacked Principal or the one about the latest Novopay cock-up? Do we attend that great PD session being offered, or go to the union meeting? Do we scan over the figures for what charter schools are being paid or spend the time trying to persuade our own students’ parents to pay a donation?
We can’t keep up with it all, because on top of all that there are actual students that need our time. And they win out, always.
As an example of things bombarding NZ educators just now, we have:
There are more things but, really, I think you get the picture.
This is a teacher’s lot. We are trying to focus on planning lessons, marking, differentiating, learning about this or that disorder we think may be affecting a student in our class, attending meetings, collecting evidence that we are doing our job, up-skilling, organising trips, taking after-school clubs, and – yes – actually teaching. And on top of everything, there’s this pile of stuff pressing down.
I’ll say it again, it’s exhausting. And stressful.
I wonder whether, just for a while at least, the powers that be would consider just letting us leach?
Too much to ask?
~ Dianne Khan
Hello all. Happy 2016, and sorry I’ve been somewhat absent, but amusing a 6 year old banshee full time is (as most of you know) not for the faint hearted, and so I’ve been somewhat distracted.
I was hoping to have another few days before I burst into action. I even avoided posting about the charter school shenanigans from last week. Perhaps I’ll reflect on that one later. For now, I want to share with you some thought on our unions…
I’ve seen a few people over the years saying they don’t know what they pay their union fees for, what’s the point joining, and so on. I saw another such comment this week, and it got me thinking that people really must not be aware of how bad things were before unions. Do people truly not know what huge benefit they are to workers? Perhaps not.
I guess if one has never worked in a non-unionised profession and seen the difference, it’s easy to take what benefit they bring for granted.
So, for those not in the know, here are just a few of the benefits of being in a union:
Wages: Your union works hard to get and maintain decent pay for us. If you think we are underpaid now, just look at the information on wages for non-unionised workers, for example…
PD: Your union provides professional development year-round. Did you know you can apply to your local branch to go on any of the union’s courses and the chances are they’ll be able to fund it for you or contribute? Coming up soon are the Pasifika Fono, the New Educators Network hui, to name but two great events. And there are all these ones. Go on – take advantage of this free and fabulous union PD.
Information: Your union keeps up to date with all of the changes and proposals relating to education and shares that information with you via branches, emails, press releases, social media, and meetings. Read the emails, check your branch’s Facebook page, go to meetings – make use of what is there. Because although the union does all this, you still have to make the effort to read it and be involved. It’s worth it.
ACET: This was hard fought for by NZEI, so that expert teachers would not have to take up management positions if they wanted to earn more but could stay in the classroom and teach. Members wanted it, the union got it. And it was achieved through hard bargaining.
Release time: This is another thing that was fought for and won. There was a time when there was no release time. That time could easily come again if the unions become weakened.
Legal help: If you need legal help, your union is there, whether the problem’s large or small. And all for FREE.
Advice: The unions’ helplines are there to help with all work-related queries. They are free and only one call away.
Death Benefit: When an NZEI union member dies, the family gets a lump sum from the union. Other unions may also do this – it’s worth checking.
Annual Conference: Amazing speakers, brilliant networking, loads of professional development and sharing, and all paid for by the union. Flights, mileage, accommodation and food. Again, ask your local branch if you want to go. Last year was my first one and it was well worth going.
I get that there are frustrations – I’ve had my own gripes – but here’s the thing; the union is only as good as its members. If something’s not working for you, tell them.
If we want the union to be strong, we must add our own strengths to it. In much the same way that teachers cannot tip information into a student’s head and make them learn, the union cannot help a member who doesn’t participate.
Or, to butcher an idiom, they can lead us horses to water and even ensure it’s drinkable, but we still have to tilt our own heads down and slurp.
Read the emails, go to meetings, pick up the pamphlets on the staff room coffee table.
Trust me, it is worth it.
NZ Union websites:
E tū: http://www.etu.nz/
Hekia Parata shared this meme on her Facebook page today, and good on her. As all good Kiwis know, we must never miss a chance to link something – anything – to the All Blacks.
However, the analogy is entirely faulty.
Does she propose we take just the top, say 15, students in the country and throw all we have at them. Fund them the most, give them the very best equipment, best medical care, best physiotherapists, best food, best buildings and sports fields, best transport, and all the positive support a country can muster?
But what about the other students? No, that can’t be what she meant.
Perhaps she meant the teachers are the All Blacks?
That might work, because we do and always have used data to inform us in our classrooms and schools, and we do try to improve and have fun. Excellent, that must be it.
Oh, wait… I presume The All Blacks don’t have to run their planned moves by the Minister, though? Or send their data in a couple of times a year for some civil servants to check over? Or get sudden edicts from the Ministry or Minister saying how they should play from now on. Hmmm… so the analogy falls apart again.
Of course it falls apart no matter which way you look at it, because it’s just a soundbite and means nothing.
Teachers are not the All Blacks. Nor are we the All Black captain.
We coach the ones who play well, the ones who don’t,
the ones with boots, the ones without,
the ones who would rather have a punch up than play to the rules,
the ones who want to play but are too shy or unsure,
the ones who think they are Richie McCaw when in fact they are more Ritchie Valens,
the ones who try so hard but never quite get to the top team,
the ones who blow your mind by making great leaps forward,
the hungry ones who can’t focus,
the depressed ones whose minds are somewhere else,
the ones going home to a warm dry house and the ones going home to mould,
the ones who can’t see the ball,
the ones who run the wrong way,
the ones who’d rather draw the ball or redesign it,
the ones who want to be an All Black
and the ones who don’t –
the ones who can be an All Black
and the ones who can’t.
What we are is the coach of all the teams – ALL of them – and we can’t and shouldn’t pick our players. We should teach the team we get.
So, if being an All Black teacher means picking only the very best, I’d rather be a little league coach any day.
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
“The experience in secondary schools is very different from that in primary with regards to recruitment of teachers”, PPTA President Angela Roberts said.
“While many teachers in the primary sector are finding it difficult to get secure jobs, in secondary schools the number of job ads has been climbing in recent years, and it is increasingly hard to recruit teachers in the sciences, maths, technology and Te Reo Maori,” she said.
A 2014 Ministry of Education report on teacher supply noted 47% of secondary teaching jobs were re-advertised, while the figure in primary is 22%. This was an increase from 2013.
The PPTA survey also showed the proportion of teachers leaving to non-teaching jobs has been increasing in recent years.
“As teachers’ salaries have been growing at a rate slower than inflation and significantly slower than many other professions, it’s understandable that other career options look more attractive,” Roberts said.
“Secondary teachers often have qualifications and skills that are readily transferable to other areas of the workforce. It’s a real shame to be losing teachers from the profession in these crucial subjects.”
Secondary schools also report a growing trend of employing teachers in areas other than their specialist subject, and one in nine schools surveyed had to cancel classes or use distance learning to deliver a subject because a suitable teacher could not be found.
“Students at secondary schools need to be able to access specialist teachers in a wide range of subjects to enable them to prepare for life as confident, capable and productive citizens,” Roberts said. “Ensuring that teaching is an attractive career and that we recruit and retain teachers in all areas, should be a number one priority for the government,” she said.
“We accept that finding a job can be challenging for new teacher graduates, and encourage them to look at a range of options when seeking a position, such as teaching in rural areas,”
Graham Stoop (Ministry of Education)
Thank you, Dr Stoop, for your comments. As Basil Fawlty would say, you get an A Level in the bleeding obvious.
Teachers searching for work are doing all they can to secure a job, and such simplistic advice doesn’t help.
It’s easy for Stoop to make these Tebbit-esque “on your bike” pronouncements, but unemployed teachers with bills and student loans to pay don’t want a meme-style answer or a simplistic and ill-considered life hack. What they do want is proper advice based on proper research into the problem and proper help finding appropriate work.
Or here’s a thought – why not stop churning out more and more new primary school teachers year on year into an already flooded market.
So thanks for your advice, Dr Stoop, but let’s be clear – it’s not that teachers are not trying to find jobs, it’s that there is a job shortage.
On his sage advice to look for jobs in rural areas, does Dr Stoop even have evidence that rural schools are crying out for applicants?
I know of well qualified teachers with years of experience who have had trouble finding jobs in rural NZ. So how easy would it be for a BT? Or someone who’s been out of the job market for a few years? I assume Stoop has some clear facts and figures showing that things are better in, say, Matamata or Wanaka, than in Auckland or Christchurch, or why would you make these pronouncements?
NZEI did some research recently and found that over half of new graduates would indeed consider moving to find a job but, as was pointed out, even for those who would move, it’s not that straightforward.
For example, a teacher can’t always just upend their partner from their job in order to move to a rural school. Or does Dr Stoop think, perhaps, that all those struggling to find teaching positions are single, 21 year old BTs, able to go where the wind takes them?
There are many complexities to the problem, but what it boils down to is very simple maths. Lots of job applicants and not many job. It’s really that simple.
And all the bike rides, sage advice and 120gsm vellum paper CVs in the world won’t magically make thousands of unemployed teachers fit into a handful of teaching jobs.