Are teachers overworked?
By Amreen Pathan
If you are reading this article, then prepare to be underwhelmed by the lack of any climatic revelation. Contrary to the slight implication that the answer to my question might possibly be a no – and I apologise for posing the question in question, as a question – teachers are most definitely overworked and my question was most definitely rhetorical.
The charity Education Support (ESP) recorded a record-breaking 82% of teachers describing themselves as stressed in March of this year. This figure makes sense if we also consider retention levels within the teaching profession in that almost a third of teachers leave the classroom within five years of qualifying.
Teaching is a 9-5 job. Unless of course you are able to fit in hours of teaching, planning, curriculum designing, managing behaviour, marking, reading, assessing, data tracking and logging, training, learning, emailing and mentoring between the hours of 9-5 then I applaud you and please share your secrets?
But for the rest of us mere mortals, teaching is a full time job with imposed overtime slots.
Although teachers being overworked is not a new phenomenon, the lockdowns within the past year revealed the extent to which teachers are overworked and the importance of looking after their own well-being.
How and why?
How and why are teachers overworked and stressed?
There is no single answer to this question but I aim to summarise the three most important factors contributing to teacher burnout.
1) Julian Stanley from ESP refers to a lost ‘sense of agency’ here. What he means by this is the constant adjustments that educational institutions have to make under ever-changing new educational initiatives such as curriculum changes. This results in things like schemes of work, assessment strategies, data management and more being edited and/or overhauled and redesigned. The cherry on the cake is the push for standardised testing and core curriculum which means teachers can only teach to teach. What about teaching to truly educate and transform? This lost ‘sense of agency’ – if it ever existed – in terms of demands and roles must be urgently returned to teachers.
2) A lack of a stable support system is a substantial benefactor. Teachers have targets to meet but without support from colleagues, line-managers, senior leadership and beyond, even for issues like behaviour management or tending to pupils with specific learning needs, targets become difficult to fulfil. Similarly, with constant change as identified above, are there enough guidelines dictating how change is managed within schools?
There is something called the decision latitude model, which “asserts that individuals will experience adverse health consequences from their work when it makes high demands on them while allowing them little personal control” (Ganster, D.C. et al, 954).
In non-technical language, a person in any pressurised role will be able to cope with their pressures and stresses if they have an element of control and support. Without the two, the person’s wellbeing and ability to cope will be called into question.
3) Another irony is that teachers are not just teachers. They are being forced to balance multiple roles for various reasons as I touched upon briefly here. Aside from being well-versed in their specialised fields and undertaking the simple act of teaching, teachers are expected to be de-facto everything; therapists, carers, GCSE examiners (with the government’s absurd obligations placed on teachers this year), support staff, SEND specialists, break time and dinner staff and even cleaners. Coupled with a lack of support and ‘lost sense of agency’, the cycle is both vicious and endless.
Lessons from lockdown
Lockdown came with its own set of challenges in the teaching domain for educators, parents and children alike. Was it all just a complete shipwreck though?
The ESP found that ‘teachers felt that a key part of teaching during lockdown had been to ensure their own well-being was looked after.’
This is a positive start because it means lockdown forced the teaching profession collectively to realise the importance of teacher well-being as more than just a ‘nice to have’ add-on like a bonus at the end of the year.
A teacher’s well-being is not just important for the sake of their own sanity. Teacher well-being has a knock on effect on pupils in a number of ways.
For example, a teacher lacking energy will be unable to deliver a lesson to the best standard possible; an unwell (physically and mentally) teacher will mean an absent teacher thus leaving pupils at the mercy of supply staff.
All in all, teacher well-being matters. What is more, teacher well-being is an essential. And being overworked must be de-normalised.
My final thoughts? If only politicians and those responsible for the education system at the top-end were judged, assessed, undervalued and overworked as hard as teachers are. Perhaps then, the profession would not be a system that ultimately fails its teachers.
If you are a teacher, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are you doing to preserve your well-being and can a teacher lead a balanced life under the current education system?