Teacher Stress by @TeacherToolkit


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@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
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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.

In addition:

  • 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!

Stress Black Woman Tired Workload

Image: 4029tv.com

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. TeacherFor 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.

Less number-crunching!

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

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?

TT.


14 thoughts on “Teacher Stress by @TeacherToolkit

  1. Stress is interesting, there seems to be two flavours. We have ‘oppressive stress’ where accountability via mechanical procedures are forced onto a person, and ’empowering’ where a person chooses to take a more stressful path because their own internal desires call for it. This is the difference between teachers straining their eyes to mark late in the evening, and teachers waking up super early to prepare a lesson they are excited about. This is the difference between students gritting their teeth and numbing their mind to the point where they can be ready for these exams (“Wake me up when it’s all over!”) and student’s coming alive with joy over enquiry that they own and desperately want to explore. Teachers AND Students are seeing doctors/therapists/councillors because of the effects of oppressive stress. Maybe the solution is to recognise, celebrate and open up the space for empowering stress to flourish?

    1. I hear you about different types of stress and the fact that some motivates and gives you a kick but the other type is indeed detrimental. I noticed over my ten years of teaching that while I was considered a good teacher throughout, reliable, produce results, good behaviour, etc I noticed that the level of stress only increased even though I was getting better rather than worse!! I think this in itself is a stress – being made to feel that you are only as good as your last observation, the inability to move quickly from a poor work situation, the bullying and harassment that was aimed at me but also watching it happen to others (not a good environment – the kind of people who do this don’t understand the atmosphere of distrust does not make for high morale or productivity).

      At one point I had alopecia because of the stress of dealing with a particularly challenging child and class (the poor level of support, dogma from certain quarters, lack of any new strategies or use of appropriate research to find solutions) for a year and a half. The only reason I went in was that the damage done to those children from losing three other teachers over 6 months in the same year (two of these were due to the behaviour of one child) was huge and I knew when I agreed to teach them that I would need to see it through. Never again though. We need to realise that we are dealing with human beings – both the teachers and children. I think we need to stop accepting the unacceptable (especially the whole teacher as cod psychiatrist nonsense – real counsellors and psychiatrists are not only trained but have safeguards in place to support them – to even suggest we take on such a role with no safeguards is asking for trouble).

      The alopecia occurred the year after not during but it shows that the body holds onto stress and also that great stress shows in your body no matter how hard you try (I worked just as hard the next year with a different class but I can’t ignore two bald patches with positive thinking!!).

      The stress is different abroad as there is also not the constant narrative of teachers are rubbish because (insert latest failing) being thrown at you via tv, the internet, social media. The level of stress they deal with abroad is the same as most jobs but certainly my friends abroad are happier, healthier and no less dedicated to their jobs but without all the nonsense it would seem.

      1. Hi Teachwell. The curse of being a reflective person interested in doing better work more quickly in a system that doesn’t recognise human limits… ever more to do! When computers first came out people fantasized over humans finally being able to, well, be human. 20 hour working weeks! they said. Time to play, read, converse, and make art! They said. It’s not worked out that way because people who hold the reigns (pay the salaries) have got into the habit of asking for more. People like you and I who want to improve themselves are drowning in these never ending pressures and expectations while those who choose to care less and do less are being rewarded because they can’t be put on and are therefore pretty much ignored by management in the hope they will leave and be replaced by someone who will go “above and beyond”, don’t you think? Positive thinking and relaxation techniques are here to calm a people into tranquillity in situations which, frankly, we shouldn’t be calm. This situating isn’t OK. This way of managing our teachers is not OK and it’s damaging to teachers and students. If you’re interested I’ve called out a biggie on this here: http://schoolsimprovement.net/warning-%e2%80%8b-exam-season-turns-good-teachers-into-bullies/ I’m inspired by Ruth’s story! Ruth- I’d love to hear from you as you move back home and renew your cause! And second Ross- good on you Carol! Have a great time!

      2. Hi Teachwell. The curse of being a reflective person interested in doing better work more quickly in a system that doesn’t recognise human limits… ever more to do! When computers first came out people fantasized over humans finally being able to, well, be human. 20 hour working weeks! they said. Time to play, read, converse, and make art! they said. It’s not worked out that way because people who hold the reigns (pay the salaries) have got into the habit of asking for more. People like you and I who want to improve themselves are drowning in these never ending pressures and expectations while those who choose to care less and do less are being rewarded because they can’t be put on and are therefore pretty much ignored by management in the hope they will leave and be replaced by someone who will go “above and beyond”, don’t you think? Positive thinking and relaxation techniques are able to powerfully calm people into tranquillity in situations which, frankly, we shouldn’t be calm. This situating isn’t OK. This way of managing our teachers is not OK and it’s damaging to teachers and students. If you’re interested I’ve called out a biggie on this here: http://schoolsimprovement.net/warning-%e2%80%8b-exam-season-turns-good-teachers-into-bullies/ I’m inspired by Ruth’s story! Ruth- I’d love to hear from you as you move back home and renew your cause! And second Ross- good on you Carol! Have a great time!

  2. I trained in Manchester in 2011 and worked for 2 years before leaving to work at an international school in Bangkok. At the end of my 2 years in UK I was ready to leave teaching simply because I was working all day and taking work home almost every night and weekend. Don’t get me wrong – I was doing a great job, often getting outstanding judgements and ‘making a difference’, and I loved it, but I loved my other life as well and just couldn’t get the work-life balance right without risking my ‘performance’. Stress in my last UK school was high – in September we were judged as ‘requiring improvement’ by Ofsted and redundancies were mentioned.

    Having now taught in Bangkok for a year I can honestly say I love teaching again. I’m not sure how to pin point the reasons but I have my life back. I’m happier than ever and feel passionate and innovative about my practice. I think it has given me time to reflect and follow my own developments. I spend so much more time thinking about what I am doing and as a consequence do it better! I still take work home, but the workload is less and I do it because I want to, not because someone might check it.

    I feel so much better about my profession that I am thinking of returning to the UK to carry on my career – the reason I wanted to be a teacher was to help disadvantaged kids, something I’m not doing here in Bangkok, but now I have a reignited love for teaching, I’m ready to take up the fight again.

  3. I’m willing to accept the same workload and or stress levels in return for the sunshine, £3k per month tax free, free accommodation, free flights, furniture allowance etc.
    Id be incentivised by this to work harder. I would feel more appreciated and valued.
    I wouldn’t miss family as I have none. I have nothing to lose by going abroad. I only have better working conditions to look forward to.
    At the moment I am on a 0.6 contract where they are struggling to give me extra hours. I am on £12,865 per annum that also gets taxed. I don’t know how I pay the bills.
    I also have to pay a large percentage of my PGCE costs per month.
    My plan is to stay in my current post until June 2016 until I finish my PGCE and then I’m off.

    1. Hi Carol, I have been at an international school in Shanghai for 4 years. I love the school and the kids but it is not all roses all of the time. The reality is you probably do work longer hours in our school than at UK schools, but the flip side is you have little or no behavioural problems to deal with, you are left to teach. I work for a large organization which owns a significant number of schools across the globe so we have our own inspection team visiting, but they are far more about sharing good practice than finding fault and creating more paperwork. My two daughters are 14 & 15, we will stay at the school for another 4 years until they have completed their education, then who knows.
      For you it may not be easy getting a job straight after the PGCE, certainly schools in China can only get visas for staff with two or more years experience. However, I would still recommend looking at different international schools, my single piece of advice would be do your homework before you apply, I know many colleagues who have ended off in poorly run schools which are unable to meet the promises they made at interview.
      Best of luck.

      1. I’ve been teaching for the last 19 years on and off. Just doing my PGCE now even tho I have a phd. Thanks. Good thoughts.

  4. Thanks for this post, Andrew and Ross.

    I do think there are 2 different issues here, though – how stressful is it teaching in a state school/independent school (could be in the UK), and how stressful is it teaching in a UK/international school.

    I haven’t taught abroad, though I know quite a few people who have and I have to say their experience has been mixed. Check it out very carefully before you make the leap. Some international schools are well run and staff are well treated – others, not so much….

    In the UK I’ve taught in both state and independent schools. In my experience, teachers and leaders in both sectors work very hard, but the pressures are different. I did prefer the independent sector because:

    You have greater choice and autonomy – feeling helpless is a recognised major cause of teacher stress
    ISI (the Independent Schools Inspectorate), although rigorous, doesn’t have the fear factor of Ofsted. ISI team inspectors are serving or recently serving heads and senior staff in independent schools so they have credibility & know what it’s like to teach/lead in similar schools. This is powerful, structured peer review
    Generally pupils behave well and want to learn, which means class management isn’t usually so pressured
    Generally parents are supportive and on-side, though some can be very pushy and demanding, of course.

    But I know that for many, teaching in independent schools isn’t something they’d consider, and I understand and respect that. Part of me knows that if I hadn’t had the experience of teaching in two independent schools I’d have a number of prejudices and false assumptions.

    So I’d say teaching in independent schools, in the UK and abroad, isn’t stress free, and the workload management/balance issue is still very much live, but the causes of stress are different. And it’s how we deal with stress/manage the pressures/build our resilience which is key.

    Thanks.

  5. Thanks for a great post. I think good teachers will feel stress wherever they work. It is often a sign that they care deeply about their job and their students. They want to do well. I worked in the UK for 14 years before moving first to Italy, then Ghana and now Singapore. I truly believe that first move changed my thinking and reignited me as a teacher and I have never looked back. I absolutely love my job, tough as it is to be so far from home. I have been teaching for 24 years and I am not sure many can still say that! International teaching differs in that often, depending where you are teaching, there are little discipline issues and students want to learn. You are not fighting for time or battling inspections and you can focus on being the best teacher you can be. They are busy places and at my school we have very high expectations of ourselves so I feel I work harder than I did in the UK but I have never grown or evolved so much in such an inspiring environment of educators. There is the constant sunshine to keep you positive and wonderful travel opportunities too. I am not encouraging teachers to move abroad but just showing how it has worked for me and my family. I miss the wonderful students and teachers I had the privilege to work with in the UK but I would not change a thing. You must choose your path and enjoy what you do. Stress is to managed and the first step is to be aware of it. Hopefully most schools do what they can to help ease it and to help you create some balance.

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