When I was a little girl, people would ask me that age-old question… “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Now this is a silly question to ask any child. How can a person of merely seven years old know what they want to be 20, 30, or 40 years from now? How does one know what they want to do for a living in order to support their future lifestyle and family, when they should be playing with Barbie dolls and tamagotchis (remember those?!) and having fun?
Well I knew. I did. I wanted to be a teacher. I dreamt of helping students to grow and learn, teaching them, inspiring them. I dreamt about making a difference to the minds of young people, to their parents, and to society. What I didn’t dream about was what was to come.
It started out all rainbows and sunshine. I loved my students and my students loved me. As a new teacher I received great feedback on my lessons, my teaching style, and the difference I was making. I received card after card addressed to “The best teacher in the whole wide world” along with colourful interpretations of what I would look like if I were a stick figure. I was showered with candles, soaps, and chocolates – more than I could ever consume in a lifetime. I was given many hugs and words of encouragement from my students about how much I had taught them.
But then it hit me. The reality of teaching.
I vividly recall one interview for a teaching position where I was told by a principal that teachers are not to have a social presence. “Of course you can have fun in your own time, but make sure no one knows about it. Warn your friends not to tag you in any photos and don’t express any views, political, teaching or otherwise, verbally or through social media”. Now this is enough to scare any fun-loving individual away from the profession. Of course I realise the importance of the message behind this. Teachers are to set an example to their students, however students and parents alike also need to understand that teachers are humans too. Teachers have friends, teachers have family, teachers sometimes have fun, and perhaps most important of all, teachers have emotions.
Teachers reveal the strangest things parents have said to them (post continues after video):
It would appear that those who understand this least are those who work in the system. The paperwork and red tape involved in a job that is supposed to be based around caring and nurturing is absolutely astonishing. To me, it feels like no one trusts teachers enough to let them be and allow them to do their job. Instead, teachers must complete form after form, and spend days or even weeks creating programs that are to be reviewed by every man and his dog, and everyone has something to say so these programs need to be reworked over and over again.
Reports must be written about everything – from each time a student has an argument with a peer, to how many electronic devices are in the classroom, and everything in between. Teachers are pushed and pulled in every which way, almost to breaking point. Teachers need to manage the expectations of their school, their principal and their colleagues. Teachers need to work towards the goals of the system and the government.
Each year teachers need to prove their worth to all 60 parents of the 30 children in their class. You’re lucky if you don’t receive a daily phone call from a parent demanding to know why their child didn’t receive a merit award at assembly, or why they are no longer sitting next to their bestie in class. And this does not even begin to describe what teachers do on a day-to-day basis. The planning and the marking, the nursing and the mediating, the cleaning and the creating, the teaching and the caring, and my goodness, the behaviour management!
Every day I was exposed to the most demeaning and disrespectful behaviour I have ever encountered. I could not finish a sentence without at least two children interrupting me with a swear word or a smart-ass comment. And let’s not forget the physical violence. Students threatening each other with scissors, glue sticks being smashed onto the hands of innocent children, and elastic bands being flicked around the classroom in the hope that it would hurt another student or their ‘beloved’ teacher. Who would have thought stationery could be so dangerous? Soon we might need a license to shop at Officeworks.
Lets talk about the physical signs of stress. The persistent headaches, anxiety-fuelled stomach cramps, lack of sleep, constant tiredness, diarrhea, pimples that took me back to my teenage years, not to mention the clumps of hair that I lost down the drain. It was beginning to become apparent to me why 40% of teachers leave the job within the first year of their career.
I was completely and utterly burnt out and was sent to a psychologist. Talking about it helped. My psychologist told me that she had heard it all before, that she sees teachers in her practice almost every day, and that stress within the teaching profession is becoming more and more prevalent.
I’ve heard other teachers describe their career as ‘soul destroying’ and ‘depressing’. This is not the life I want to live. My intention is not to scare anyone away from the profession. That does not work. My mother tried to warn me, being a teacher of 30+ years herself and someone who has lived through it. And survived. But I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to experience the magic, the wonder, and the joy of teaching myself. No, my point is not to put the fear of God into the future teachers of this world. My point is to send a message.
To the system: Open your eyes! You are losing some of the best teachers, and for what?
To the parents: Give teachers a break. They are doing the best that they can.
And to myself: You deserve better than this.