A Reader Writes… (Teacher Stress – Part 1)

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In response to the post, “Teacher Stress,” a reader writes:

“I have been teaching for 10 years. But I have never experienced more bullying from central office than I have in the past three years. There is now more meanness in principals’ attitudes toward their teachers and more disrespect toward teachers from central office administrators.

Just this year alone I have trained for 9 new mandated programs. I feel overwhelmed, disappointed and burned out. I am considering another profession. As a teacher, I am used to working long hours at school, but this is extreme, to say the least.”

SC Response
Thank you for joining the conversation. Unfortunately, since I don’t know what district you are in, I cannot address specifics. But I can respond in broad terms.

The fact that you are feeling more pressure is not unique. The accountability expectations of the state are making everyone feel the heat. The pressure you are facing has been around for a while. Those who felt it first were our most at-risk campuses. As the standards have increased, each year more schools reach the point where doing what they have always done will no longer suffice. Then everyone goes into panic mode. The old saying, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” is the perfect recipe for system meltdown.

Then, when the system starts to meltdown the easiest people to blame are those closest to the problem, in this case, school-based staff. What compounds this is that the typical central office staffer or administrator has a skewed view of the current realities of campus operations. This has occured because accountability standards have changed so rapidly. The instructional practices that made me a successful teacher in the early 90’s would now be considered sub-par, at best. I am aware of this, because I continue to spend a significant portion of my month, in classrooms, observing and coaching teachers. As you well know, this is not typical central office behavior. Once you get to central office, most people become too “busy” to visit schools and classrooms on a regular and frequent basis. Thus, they have not experienced the tempo and constant high quality execution of fundamental practices now neccessary to just keep your head above water.

However, if you think central office is tough on you, sit in the principal’s chair. The principal must deal directly with central office on almost a daily basis. They catch the heat on everything: performance, budget, personnel and community relations. If there is a problem, rest assured someone will soon be calling. Thus, as the pressure on the principal is increased, it is natural (and at times, unfortunate) that some of the pressure is directed towards the staff.

As for training on all the new programs, believe me, I am empathetic. I am a proponent of going slower in order to speed up implementation (but I can promise you that my definition of slow is quite different from that of the typical educator). And trust me, there are a number of Superintendents and Assistant Superintendents that are getting tired of me pointing out that they are training their staff to the point that they are unable to teach. On the other hand, there are some districts that we are working with who have done so little to stay current with the best practices of our field, that they are now trying to fix everything at once. In that case, all I can say is do your best to get a little better each day and at some point the learning curve will seem less steep.

Finally, when it comes to burn-out, you always have to ask yourself why you are doing the job. If you are just doing it for the money, the money isn’t good enough. If you are just doing it for the holiday schedule, that ship sailed years ago. If you are doing it because you get a charge out of your students learning and succeeding under your tutelage, then stick it out. Adversity builds character and capacity. Plus, you read the blog. That means that you are actively scanning the horizon in search of better practices and solutions. That puts you at least one step ahead of both your peers and most administrators.

Think. Work. Achieve.

Your turn…

Reflections on Phoenix
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