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Education Opinion

You’re Not a NUT, But.....

By Susan Graham — May 12, 2009 3 min read

Today was the deadline for encumbering budget money. This week there are two after school meetings to be attended at the far end of the county. I am working on guest blogs for Public School Insights and the Center for Teacher Leadership . Over at Teacher Leaders Network we have a couple of group projects that I want to be part of. In the meantime, the last mid-quarter interim reports go out Wednesday. Our kids are prepping for the state assessment tests so I’m working around remediation pull outs and field trips. A colleague cried in my office today and two of my students had issues that involved family members and jail. Since I’m pretty stressed out myself this week, I could relate when I saw the headline Stress of Term Time is Putting Teachers’ Mental Health at Risk, says NUT.

Great! Now some reporter is calling educators a bunch of nut cases? But wait, the NUT was in England. The article went on to say

Half of all teachers have considered leaving the profession due to stress, citing the long hours, excessive workload, lack of support and poor pupil behaviour, according to the National Union of Teachers (NUT). In addition, a large-scale HSE survey found teaching to be the most stressful occupation in the UK, it said.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Seems it’s not all Eton, Harrow, and Hogwarts over the pond after all. But the Brits are not alone, there are stressed teachers Australia,Taiwan,Latvia, Africaand the Pacific Islands. In fact, my search for teacher stress produced 36,800,000 links.

Are tea sipping teachers in England symptomatic? Are educators a bunch of whiners who can’t cope? I keep searching and stumble on to the Teachers.tv site and discover their How Stressed is Your School? series. This isn’t just about teacher perception or soft psychobabble. It’s hard quantitative medical evidence and multidisciplinary research. Teachers wear biometric vests which provide a live feed of blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperatures as they go through their instructional day. Psychological surveys probe into what teachers perceive as stress and what they believe helps them cope with stress. Even genetic factors that predisposed one to high stress, due to cortisol, the stress hormone, is investigated. I really need to go to bed, but this is fascinating! I’m hooked and I can’t stop eavesdropping on what’s going on with the teachers at Kings Langley—a formerly failing school that has been reorganized. I’m staying up too late again and slugging down Diet Coke for a caffeine fix. More stress! But I keep clicking to find that

Teacher stress is a much talked of phenomenon, however, there is little consensus between different professional groups regarding its aetiology, or how to tackle it. Based on a review of international research, it is concluded that teacher stress is a real phenomenon and that high levels are reliably associated with a range of causal factors, including those intrinsic to teaching, individual vulnerability and systemic influences.
Surely there’s a silver bullet among all of these sites, but instead I find "
So how can educators handle all of this stress? Unfortunately there is not one answer.
Oh dear, that was stressful! So I go back to TeacherTV for some help from their Stress Relief for Schools series. One of the more interesting aspects of all of this is that there really isn’t one answer--managing stress is a complicated combination of biology, life experience, and reflection. However, it would appear that a person’s ability to manage stress may be one of the more critical factors in teacher success.

This takes me back a recent conversation here at TM with my teacher colleaguesNancy Flanagan and Anthony Cody. When TM editor Anthony Rebora queried,

The recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher , based on a comparison to past surveys, found that teacher satisfaction has increased markedly over the past 25 years. Has this been your impression? What do you think accounts for the change?

I said, “It does surprise me that teachers feel better [about their work]. Could it be that while we are expected to have high expectations for student performance we might have lower expectations for our own work place satisfaction?”

More stress, but greater satisfaction: What has changed? Our circumstances? Our performance efficacy? Our coping strategies? Our expectations?

I keep turning the question over and over in my head. I don’t know. But I do know that I need to do my yoga, take a nice soaky bath, and get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow’s another day in middle school, so I’m scheduled for full day of stress beginning at 8:20 in the morning. We’re in the end stretch of the year and there’s too much to be done to schedule a mental health day!

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