Is Teacher Well-being an Oxymoron?
I have been a little obsessed with this topic over the last year. As a teacher myself, I understand the very real pressures of teaching. I am also aware that there is a lot of opinion about well-being and teaching so I set myself the task of finding out more!
Last week, I created and shared a survey for any teacher in the UK to complete. I asked the following questions:
- What do you love about your job?
- What is your biggest struggle at the moment?
- What is the one thing that your school has introduced that you think is beneficial to teacher well-being?
- What is the one thing you would like your school to introduce which you think will have the biggest impact on teacher well-being?
The feedback has been interesting. Although the data collected is relatively small in comparison to other surveys conducted, there are some very clear patterns which identify teachers’ concerns.
What do you love about your job?
This question revealed that 43% of teachers love their job because they love working with children. 26% said that they like helping others learn something new. 17% stated imparting knowledge to the future generation as their answer. Only 5% said the holidays and 3%, nothing.
What is your biggest struggle at the moment?
I gave 11 options for this question as well as the option to add their own but 40% sited their ever-growing to-do list as their biggest struggle. A few of them added their own comment stating it was the incredible amount of work they were being asked to do on top of their teaching which was their biggest struggle.
Only 3% stated planning as an issue and 8% marking and feedback. Talking to a few colleagues about these findings, we agreed that teachers don’t have an issue with doing their job. Planning, teaching, marking and feedback although time consuming, are considered part of the package when you go into teaching. It is all of the extras which have the biggest negative effect on well-being.
What is the one thing that your school has introduced that you think is beneficial to teacher well-being?
The results from this question did surprise me as 47% of teachers stated ‘nothing’ as their answer. 22% of teachers did comment that the marking and feedback policy had been updated which I think is great as this can be incredibly time consuming. 3% mentioned a comment box for unnecessary tasks. 5% stated a reduction in tracking and data entering and 5% mentioned more social events.
Last week, I spoke about how the government have released their own support for teacher workload. You can read the full post HERE. They have provided a workload toolkit for school leaders to use to reduce unnecessary workload. Now, we may remain cynical about this support but it is available and it seems that there are still a lot of schools out there who are not using it.
What is the one thing you would like your school to introduce which you think will have the biggest impact on teacher well-being?
When asked this question, 48% of teachers stated that they would like schools and leaders to have more trust in their staff. They want less micro-managing and to be allowed to get on with teaching. I spoke to a few more teachers about this in more detail and it is clear that they believe if they spent less time on the extras (to constantly prove they were doing their job), they would have more time to actually do their job.
Other things teachers would like to see more of is:
- A more understanding Head Teacher
- Private Healthcare
- Less formal atmosphere
- Increased PPA time
- Reducing after school and weekend events
We, as teachers, can only do so much but there are things that we can do. One of the biggest issues is that we are great at saying what we don’t like but we don’t often offer solutions. You are more likely to get your voice heard at school if you discuss your issues with possible solutions. They will then have to find a counter argument if they don’t want to implement it into school which is harder to do.
Here is a list of ideas that have served me and my team well over the years:
- Talk to SLT about marking and feedback. Look at my previous post on ideas on how you can reduce the amount you do and the frequency. You can read it HERE. If they are unsure of making changes then show them this video HERE
- Talk to your team and share everything. Resources, detentions (set up a rota), behaviour management issues, marking (assessments) etc. Even sharing food at lunch time works wonders for setting up and nurturing a supportive team. If you show your team that you will be there for them, I guarantee that they will return the favour.
- Work out what your boundaries are. I wish I had done this at the start of my teaching career but it took me years to establish home / school boundaries. What is important to you? Eating dinner with your family? Having weekend time? Then set those boundaries. Yes, you will have to be flexible but it keeps you sane, I promise you. I found that I didn’t mind working late at nights if it meant that I had my weekends off with my family. What about you?
- If you feel that you can’t set boundaries because you just have too much to do then it is time to look at your to-do list. I have included a free to-do list template which you can download HERE but here is a preview.
- On the left hand side you have ‘Mind Dump’! I know, the name right?! But it serves a purpose. Throughout the day write your tasks down in this column. Anything, just write them down. Now every evening, before you start work (or during the day if you are have a PPA) look at that list and fill in the middle column which is about student progress. Everything you do as a teacher must impact on student progress. If it doesn’t then write it in the ‘remember for later’ column. Anything that does have an impact on student progress, write it in the middle column with the most immediate ones at the top. These ones should be anything to do with planning, teaching or feedback.
- If you feel that there are things on your to-do list which are not benefiting students but you have been made to feel that they are necessary, talk to your line manager and ask them to explain the importance of the task. Again, refer to that video I mentioned earlier about teacher workload if you think they need further evidence that you should not be doing work that doesn’t impact on student progress.
- If you feel that there are things that are on your to-do list and you know that they are important for student progress but it feels like too big a job, ask for support! Please! It is not a weakness. In fact, it shows that you are not in denial and that you are not burying you head in the sand, hoping it will go away. Talk to someone and ask for help.
- If you don’t have that support and you are feeling genuinely stressed and isolated then talk to you union rep for advice. If you don’t fancy that idea, feel free to email me and we can talk it through together. firstname.lastname@example.org
I would really like to hear about any other workload hacks you have. Please email me or comment below.
So is Teacher Well-being an Oxymoron?
My personal opinion is that teacher well-being is possible but that it requires all of us; government, schools, SLT, Middle Leaders and teachers to work together and communicate ideas. It is not a case of just adding extra events into the calendar, it means asking the tough questions about workload. It will take time and it will be hard work but I don’t think that is a reason to not try at all.
Until next time, you’ve got this!
PS Did you want your own copy of the to-do list above? Then click the link below to get your own copy