I’m sitting in a classroom at Geneva High School for Kane County’s Teacher Institute Day. Everyone—except me, thinking there’d be complementary coffee—carries strongly caffeinated Starbucks or Dunkin take-outs. In late February, the congregating crowd’s only corona concern is which pub they’ll meet at afterwards to share longnecks and limes.
We’re here to be inspired by the likes of Mr. Keating in “Dead Poets Society,” to figuratively stand on our desks to view education from a new angle--and pretend like we’re taking notes while actually grading papers.
This first session covers “Classroom Management”; with class sizes far surpassing twenty-five, teachers caged with lions need a pedagogical chair to control them. Our speaker divulges that her husband, working in the Illinois prison system, also deals with people who don’t listen, lack discipline, suffer from illiteracy, lack basic skills, and, charged with wrongdoing, contest, “It wasn’t my fault,” because never held responsible.
A hand goes up. “This may be off-topic, but registering for today, I saw sessions dealing with stress fill first.”
Uh-oh! When educators sidestep “How Bloom’s Taxonomy Makes Classrooms Blossom” (a made-up title) for “A Breath of Yoga: teaching Yoga and Meditation to your Students” and “Guided Meditation to Prevent Education Burnout” (real titles), maybe administrators should focus on teachers’ needs, rather than annually demand they do more—often for less $—leading to teachers bleeding from the profession.
A recent Gallup poll shows “almost half of the teachers in the U.S. say they are actively looking for a different job” (weareteachers.com 6/14/20). Why? You try dealing with one teacher’s list of challenges: “Unmanageable class size, …working 10–15 hour days and weekends, ineffective administrators, frivolous meetings and regulations….” “Occupational Health & Safety” (2/7/20) adds, “student disciplinary issues, lack of opportunity to use the restroom, and student aggression.”
Another survey (topschoolsjobs.org 10/30/17) discovers “educators find work to be stressful 61 percent of the time—and nearly a quarter…said work was ‘always’ stressful [because] teachers have minor or no influence over school budget decisions, [and] nearly half have little or no say in determining professional development.”
Teachers unable to amend or modify a required curriculum also rankles. My niece, Elizabeth, a Kindergarten teacher, writes, “It boggles my mind that I teach five- and six-year-olds, and I’m this stressed to get to so much academic material. No matter how many TED talks and research-based articles [stress] the importance of play, I don't have one minute of it. No wonder our students don't know how to problem solve or communicate. They don't have a second to think for themselves.”
Finally, educators’ physical and mental health become impaired. “43% of teachers…sleep less than 6 hours a night….[T]he paperwork, marking, planning and assessment involved takes significantly longer than the delivery of lessons….Unrealistic increases in workload have crept up on the profession.” [O]nly 32% of teachers reported being “happy,” 32% “irritated by the behavior and attitude of my classes at school,” and 36% “irritated at school and in my home life….This is made significantly worse by a blame culture, which discourages teaching staff from sharing how they feel” (notwaitingforsuperman.org 6/20/19).
Without giving teachers more voice in policies and curricula, without attending to psychological and physical needs, without funding to shrink class sizes to reduce behavioral issues and take-home work, parents better get used to instructors who appear calm, but feel like the poor soul in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
Okay, teachers, all together, with me: “AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!”
Feel better? If you can’t afford yoga classes, it may be all the relief you’re getting. Namaste.
• Rick Holinger lives in Geneva, teaches high school English, and facilitates Geneva library’s writing workshop. His collection of columns, “Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences,” is due out this spring. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.