I’m a teacher and I’ll admit it. There were times when I would have liked to have given some children in my class more individual attention and support this year.
As the end of the school year draws to a close, teachers are delivering final curriculum, organising end-of-year school activities and concerts, marking assignments, attending interviews with parents, and giving students the one-on-one tuition they need to do well in exams.
This is in addition to the planning and preparation for classes, meetings with colleagues, and maintaining an engaging and stimulating learning environment for students that we maintain all year round.
My family has come to accept that I come home late, tired, overwhelmed and that class planning must be done on the weekend and student assessment in the evenings.
I’m not unique. All of my colleagues are taking more and more work home, with many expected to be available to parents and students 24 hours a day, and facing ever-growing mounds of paperwork. I don’t always have time to consider the individual learning and developmental needs of all the children in my classes, and plan to meet their needs.
Many times, when the demands have become too overwhelming, I have considered leaving the profession. I weigh up the passion I have for seeing my students succeed against the impact of that stress on my health and my family.
Teachers work an average 15 hours of unpaid overtime each week. Despite the complexity of the work, the unpaid hours and the stress, I often hear the fabled refrain that teachers ‘have a charmed life’ with a holiday break over Christmas.
The reality isn’t so charming. Spread the average 53 hours a week that teachers work over a full working year, and teachers are not even getting the mandated four weeks of annual leave.
Welcome parents to the sticky world of This Glorious Mess. Post continues after podcast.
The personal impact isn’t actually my most pressing concern. I am troubled that students miss out when teachers are under unreasonable pressure, pulled in all directions.
I have students with special needs in my class. I have students who need welfare support, and students who would benefit from extension programs. I want to be able to give every student who walks through my classroom door the attention they require to develop the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed.
I want them to enjoy their time at school, with a teacher who has the time and energy to make every lesson engaging. I don’t only want to foster a love of learning, I also want to be a role model for my students – of someone who has found her calling, loves her work, and tackles life with purpose and enthusiasm.
When you think about the work your child’s teacher does, do you think mainly about the hours spent in front of the class, working directly with students? Of course that’s fair enough, but what you don’t see is the administration, preparation, professional development, physical and emotional energy required to deliver those lessons every day.
The Australian Education Union surveyed 13,000 Victorian teachers and found over two-thirds don’t have enough time to properly plan their classes. The result is that 90% believe their workload negatively affects the quality of their teaching.
Teacher burnout is a major problem, and it is a problem our children can’t afford. We generally measure student outcomes against various learning tasks, but the quality of the relationship that a teacher establishes with each student has a big impact on the student’s engagement and their academic results. Exhausted teachers cannot deliver the individual attention your child needs.
When teachers are forced to choose between the career they love and their own wellbeing, we lose experienced, motivated, dedicated educators. They leave the profession, or lose their passion. These are the people who deliver the education that opens our young people’s eyes to the world - and put opportunities within their grasp.
When you thank your child’s teacher at the end of this term know that they chose their career because - more than anything - they want to see your child succeed.
Diana Santaera is the prep team leader and classroom teacher at a public school in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.