Yes, it’s true, the holidays are good and the hours can be flexible, but teaching is not an easy profession. I adore teaching, but even on a good day I come home absolutely exhausted. And it’s not as if my day stops when I get home. Marking, planning and reporting duties often have me working deep into the night.
The same parents that think teaching is not very hard, openly complain about how tiring their child’s birthday party was to manage. They freely talk about the noise levels, the repeated requests for them to be quiet and the tears when games are lost and feelings are hurt.
Now picture this: You are hosting a birthday party every single day for a year. Now you know what it can be like to teach a class!
I am very lucky. My natural love for teaching energises me and gives me the adrenaline I need to get through the day with my smile intact. But I have experienced enough stress and challenges in my time to completely sympathise with the overwhelming number of teachers experiencing burnout:
More than one in four new teachers are suffering from ”emotional exhaustion” and almost burnt out soon after starting their careers, according to a Monash University study.
The reasons offered include a lack of administrative support, onerous compliance measures and much tougher emotional conditions than they expected to face, particularly in economically depressed areas.
“We could go within five kilometres of this university and find classroom environments where some teachers would be experiencing forms of post-traumatic stress as a result of the sorts of things they deal with on a daily basis – where the social dimension of their work is a big, big ask,” Associate Professor Paul Richardson said. ”People would be shocked.”
He and Associate Professor Helen Watt made their findings from surveys of 612 primary and secondary teachers. They were first surveyed in 2002 as they enrolled in teacher education at universities in Victoria and NSW.
”I would never have thought 27 per cent would be on a path to burnout or worn out already,” Dr Richardson said. Dr Watt described those affected as ”a very dangerous group”.
“They report much greater negativity in their interaction with students,” she said, ”such as using sarcasm, aggression, responding negatively to mistakes. They were there [originally] for reasons such as wanting to enhance social equity, making a contribution to society, or having a personal interest in teaching and working with youth,” she said.
Yet the latest results of the FIT-Choice (Factors Influencing Teaching) project indicate low morale is all too common among this sample.
And the most positively motivated teaching students – those who initially planned to stay in teaching the longest – suffered the greatest drop in confidence and satisfaction once they started working.
In Victoria, new teachers have orientation days, mentoring arrangements and even “buddy” programs to help them feel at home in their first weeks on the job.
“But it would appear most of these measures are ad hoc,” said Andrea Gallant, a senior lecturer and education researcher at Deakin University.
Dr Gallant is tracking the attrition rate among beginning teachers – a statistic made difficult to pin down because teachers often remain registered after leaving the profession. The Education Department puts the attrition rate for teachers under 30 at 3 per cent. “We would estimate the rate of attrition to be probably 50 per cent,” Dr Gallant said. She recently completed a small case study interviewing high-performing teaching graduates who left the profession within a few years, to find out why.
“They were keen to introduce new practices, which were not always widely accepted by peers. They were supported in their first year and isolated in their second year,” Dr Gallant said. ”And often they’re given the toughest classes.”
Meredith Peace, Victorian branch president of the Australian Education Union, said schools were not given enough support to implement structured peer-to-peer programs. “Good mentoring requires time,” she said.