This post answers the 40th question from my TeacherToolkit Thinking page of Thunks. Does teaching make you stressed? And should I consider working elsewhere?
Stress is something that we all encounter as teachers. Sadly, this may be more often than not for some, whether this is unavoidable, self-inflicted or created as a result of working with others; challenging students or a demanding workload. Stress is part and parcel of working in difficult circumstances, with stretched resources in challenging schools.
Over the past twenty years, I have forgotten the amount of times I’ve felt stressed at school; bordering on exhaustion at times. I’ve now accepted this as normal practice each academic year. At the time of writing, I’ve just finished a 55-hour working week at my school. Now, I wouldn’t say the type of work is stressful, but certainly the workload is.
According to the NASUWT, the statistics are alarming! Most situations are a result of:
- workload (89%)
- pay and pensions (45%)
- curriculum reform (44%)
- student behaviour (40%)
- managing difficult conversations
- meeting performance appraisal targets
- paperwork and so on. This list is endless.
- 83% had reported workplace stress
- 67% said their job has adversely impacted their mental or physical health
- Almost half of the three thousand respondents reported they had seen a doctor because of work-related mental or physical health problems with 5% hospitalised, and 2% said they had self-harmed!
Thunk 40: If I move overseas, am I running away from stress that I’ll find elsewhere?
This Thunk has been posed by @AndrewTIC and is in response to a recent article from the BBC which said;
“that teacher stress levels in England are soaring. A survey of 3,500 members of the NASUWT suggested that 83% of them had reported workload stress and, according to the latest UK government statistics, one in ten teachers left Britain’s state-funded school profession between November 2012 and November 2013. More than 100,000 of them have found alternative options internationally and are currently teaching at one of over 7,000 English-medium international schools located around the world.”
The pressure of curriculum reform, excessive planning, gathering evidence, inspections, and classroom behaviour are all mentioned as reasons why many teachers from the UK look internationally as a solution. And one of the most common questions that are asked by teachers when they consider international options is: ‘Will I find the same level of stress wherever I go?’
A different sort of stress:
National education systems can be stressful because they are controlled by government policy which sets standards, requirements and budgets. When a country-wide policy is put in place, the needs of individual schools can be lost in the process of finding a solution that works for all schools. What might work for one school, doesn’t always work for another.
Independent schools – which include most of the world’s international schools – face different challenges. They have to be profitable to survive, and to remain competitive they have to ensure high standards. So pressure for teachers and leaders is, naturally, still there. However, independent schools can establish processes and procedures that meet the exact needs of the school. As a result, teacher demands are more likely to be focused on delivering good learning rather than on bureaucratic paperwork, reacting to government-led curriculum reform, or preparing for high pressure inspections.
The realities of international schools:
So, do not think you’ll get away from all stress by moving abroad to teach; demands on teachers can be high in international schools. In some places, the competition between international schools is extensive. For example, in Dubai there are international schools everywhere; right now there are 245 different ones! There are currently 21 cities in the world that each has at least 50 international schools if not more, including Singapore, Riyadh, Cairo and Buenos Aires. On one hand, this is great news for teachers as this creates plenty of job opportunities. On the other hand, the pressure for the school to be the very best, to deliver the highest quality of learning and teaching, and to meet the expectations of fee-paying parents can be stressful for teachers as well as leaders.
Many international school teachers say they work long hours during the school week, and a significant number of international schools require teachers to participate in extra-curricular activities. Many international schools have very high performing students and meeting their needs can be stressful for some teachers. Others find the experience of living away from family to have its challenges too.
However, most international school teachers say that their stresses are focused on being a good teacher, and good international schools are very supportive places, with teachers taking a collegiate approach and quality resources available. And teachers say that they have more time during the weekends and holidays for themselves.
Claire Woodhouse, a teacher from Buckinghamshire who is now teaching at ACS International School in Doha in the Middle East says: “This school differs from my school in England in that it’s not obsessed with number-crunching and data input about student progress. I’ve noticed that when you remove the constant need for reporting and testing, the students seem to achieve more, and learn profoundly more. This is very rewarding as a teacher.”
Claire is one of many teachers who find the international experience reignited their love of teaching.
Andrew Wigford is Managing Director of UK-based Teachers International Consultancy (TIC). He has been involved in international education both as a teacher and Headteacher for over 25 years and has worked in Germany, Colombia and Austria. He set up TIC recruitment in 2005 to help teachers find great jobs in great international schools.
You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewTIC.
What do you think?
How is teaching stressful to you? And if you’ve worked in the UK and overseas, how do they compare?