Tag Archives: lives of teachers

High Levels of Stress, Low Levels of Autonomy

The Washington Post recently reported on a survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) of approximately 30,000 teachers. Survey results reported teachers felt high levels of stress and low levels of autonomy. The rise of government initiatives such as the Common Core Standards were identified as a source of stress for teachers. The article reported: “Teachers said they feel particularly anxious about having to carry out a steady stream of new initiatives — such as implementing curricula and testing related to the Common Core State Standards — without being given adequate training, according to the survey. “

help

The AFT website reports some key findings from the survey:

  • Only 1 in 5 educators feel respected by government officials or the media.
  • Only 14% strongly agree with the statement that they trust their administrator or supervisor.
  • More than 75 % say they do not have enough staff to get the work done.
  • 78% percent say they are often physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.
  • 87% percent say the demands of their job are at least sometimes interfering with their family life.
  • Among the greatest workplace stressors were the adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development, mandated curriculum and standardized tests.

Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, noted stress could be a result of teachers wearing multiple hats in the classroom:

“We ask teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr….We ask them to be Mom and Dad and impart tough love but also be a shoulder to lean on. And when they don’t do these things, we blame them for not being saviors of the world. What is the effect? The effect has been teachers are in­cred­ibly stressed out.”

Read more about this issue at: http://www.aft.org/news/survey-shows-need-national-focus-workplace-stress#sthash.mryeqegY.dpuf

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New Moms: We Are Here for You

Leah McLarenLeah McLaren, a columnist for the Globe and Mail (our national newspaper), wrote an open letter to the wife of Peter McKay (Canadian Justice Ministry). McKay has been embroiled in a scandal regarding leaked emails he sent to his staff for Mother’s and Father’s day:

“The Mother’s Day email hailed women for the home and childcare duties they perform before arriving at the office, while the Father’s Day message made no mention of diapers or school lunches, and instead praised them for “shaping the minds and futures of the next generation of leaders.” http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/mackay-enough-has-been-said-about-sexism-controversy-1.1889490

In McLaren’s article she talks about the challenges of being a new mother (McKay’s wife, Busy MomNazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay) recently had a baby. On our research teams we (Clare and Clive) have a number of new Moms who are juggling work, study, childcare, and …. Although they do not complain I (Clare) can see the exhaustion written all over their faces. I witness how their confidence ebbs as they so often feel like they are not doing enough, they are not carrying their weight on the team, they are not spending sufficient time on their research, and on and on. McLaren advises Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay:

No matter how overwhelming it feels now, while your son is small and dependent, remember that one day it will change. The former you – the activist and author and tireless campaigner who never had spit up in her hair or a soother in her handbag – is still there, lurking at the back of your neglected shoe closet. She might have receded for the moment, but she will emerge again. And in the meantime, here’s a tip: Don’t be afraid to ask your husband to do more. I know he’s busy.

Check out the full article are: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/article19344705.ece

Given the way careers unfold many female doctoral students and new faculty are new Moms. Take heart – you are doing plenty and do not forget that that you are smart women who deserve to be in academia. Brush that guilt off your shoulders. The exhaustion will pass and you will be stronger and wiser. Remember, we are here for you and will continue to be here for you because you are our valued colleague and friend. Print off McLaren’s article and when you need a boost, read it (mind you it might be at 2:00 a.m.).

Strategies for Maintaining Motivation and Satisfaction as a Teacher (and Teacher Educator)

Teaching is challenging. As David Labaree (2004) says:

“[T]eaching is an extraordinarily difficult form of professional practice. It is grounded in the necessity of motivating cognitive, moral, and behavioral change in a group of involuntary and frequently resistant clients.” (pp. 55-56)

In our study of teachers, we (Clive and Clare) have been struck BOTH by the many challenges the teachers face AND how well they maintain their morale despite the challenges. Of the original cohort of 22 who began in 2004, none have quit teaching (though 2 have left the study) and none have experienced a substantial, permanent decline in motivation, though they have their ups and downs. When in 2012 we asked them explicitly about their motivation over the years, their responses were as follows:

     Average Motivation of Cohort 1 (18 interviewed) Over Their First Eight Years (Scale 1-5)

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8
4.7 4.4 4.4 4.4 4.1 3.8 3.8 4.2

 Interestingly, their highest motivation was in year 1. Though they were stressed and exhausted, they were excited to be doing what they had dreamed of for so long.

As for the strategies they used to keep up their morale, we noted the following:

  • Acknowledging the inherent challenges and limits of teaching – “it’s not just you”
  • Taking a broad approach to teaching, so it’s more social, meaningful, enjoyable
  • Becoming more skilled and effective as a teacher
  • Maintaining a work-life balance: having a life beyond teaching
  • Remembering why you became a teacher in the first place (see quotes below)

“Teaching is getting harder, and I’ve changed in that I would no longer recommend it to everyone…. However, I like it because I’m a doer, I enjoy being creative, and I like being challenged.” (Felicity, year 7)

“I’m happy to go to school [because] you just never know what’s going to happen; it’s always a new day.” (Jody, year 8)

“When things were going in a wrong direction [recently] with my school administration and in the school district, it brought me back to why I was there, why I wanted to be a teacher: working with the kids, dealing with their issues, getting down to the fundamentals of teaching them.” (John, year 8)

Great strategies! Good for teachers – and teacher educators too!

Congratulations Tiffany Harris

Tiffany Harris and Clare Kosnik

Congratulations to Tiffany Harris (member of our research team) who successfully defended her PhD thesis yesterday. The thesis, Multiliteracies Theory into Practice: An Inquiry into Junior-level Literacy Classrooms, was a study of classroom teachers (grades 4 – 6) which examined their understanding and use of a multiliteracies approach in their teaching. The thesis is outstanding because Tiffany closely studied her participants’ views of literacy, their practices, and the challenges they face. The analysis is outstanding because Tiffany is both a very accomplished classroom teachers and an excellent researcher. She brought to bear on her work her understanding of the work of teachers and her extensive knowledge of multiliteracies theory. As a result, her work will definitely contribute to our understanding of how literacy is evolving and how teachers are adjusting their teaching. It is rare to have a study that moves so effectively between theory and practice. Her thesis will soon be available through the Proquest Dissertation Database. Congratulations Dr. Harris. Attached is a picture of Tiffany and me (Clare) after her thesis defense.

Professional Identity

Today I (Clive) was teaching my School and Society (social foundations) course in the preservice program. Our topic was professional identity. What a class we had! We discussed:

·      Teachers’ perception of their role

·      Motivation and satisfaction

·      Challenges of teaching

·      Work-life balance

·      Confidence

·      Stance in relation to system mandates

I selected a number of quotes from our chapter on professional identity from our upcoming text: Growing as a Teacher (Sense Publishers). The students took turns reading these quotes aloud which proved to be very powerful. We brought the “voices” of the teachers into the class. Here are a few of the quotes we read:

Classroom teachers have an enormously challenging job; I didn’t realize that when I first started teaching, but now I do. And that hasn’t made me any less effective, if anything it’s made me somewhat more; because now I’m kinder to myself. I see that basically the teacher sets the atmosphere of the classroom, and if you’re constantly stressed out and trying to attain the impossible you become a frustrated and burnt out person. (Felicity, eighth year teacher)

The most important aspects of my role are ensuring that my students develop a positive sense of self; that they acquire a love of learning; and that they develop a world perspective, with compassion and understanding for other people. Embedded in that are social skills; but it’s bigger than that, because I want them to see beyond their own life and community. This view of my role is broader than it used to be. If you’d asked me when I started teaching I would have said the world citizenship component was important, but it didn’t play into my daily practice to the extent it does now. (Tanya, eighth year teacher)

Coming out of my inner-city pre-service program, where the emphasis was on being a change-maker and inspiring every kid, I had to learn that it can often be slow going and I have to not feel defeated if I fail to accomplish everything I hoped for. Because…you really, really need to enjoy teaching to last in the profession, and it’s draining and can get frustrating. I’ve always worked in inner-city schools, so I’m mentally prepared for it…[but] I’ve had to learn not to take things personally. Otherwise you go home and things rest in your mind and you get physically sick.  (Jessica, fifth year teacher)

Basing my teaching on where the students are and where they need to be [according to the standards-based approach], I found I ended up teaching to the test; and the whole fun and love of learning went out the door. So I changed my process, and asked: What am I teaching? What skills need to be taught? How can I get that across to them in a way that they’ll enjoy? And then after reflecting on it, and seeing where it didn’t work so well, I asked: What should I change?   (Lucy, fifth year teacher)