career

A teacher writes: "Friday was one of the worst days. I feel like I can't breathe."

Friday was one of the worst days. Horrible day. Crappy day. Topped off with tears and an almost panic attack. And yet, it’s not the only day I’ve felt this way. In fact, it’s not even the second or third or even fourth day. This is every day. Each and every day I teach, it’s like I can’t even breathe. It’s as though I’m drowning and have no mental energy left. You might be thinking I’m new to the profession but I have been here for seven years and it’s only getting worse.

And yet, this is what a lot of people call their career. We spend countless hours preparing, thinking, planning, assessing, and for what? On Friday afternoon, when trying to carry out a fun soccer game, I was called blind by one kid who continued to rant and rave (with expletives of course) because he didn’t get his way. This is the same kid I’ve had meetings with, calling his mum and invited her to speak with me at the school, constantly checking in that he’s OK – but it all doesn’t matter really, does it? You see, that kid, the one who can’t self regulate his emotions, the one who only knows how to scream instead of talk, the one who only knows how to yell and not listen, it doesn’t matter how much I do. This kid needs something else. Hope, a way forward out of his horrible home life, positivity.

And I’m more than happy to try to give that to him. Except for the fact there’s at least another ten just like him in my class. I’m only one person with my own trials, my own worries and yet I take the students’ problems on board too. I become the punching bag taking the hits for issues that are well outside my scope as a teacher. But who cares about teachers, right?

So here we are. We’ve come to the very reason I’m writing this today. How can teachers teach anymore? How can we honestly be expected as educators to achieve standards when the majority of our time is spent managing behaviour? My classroom feels like a battlefield every day and it’s just a matter of time before one students gets set off by something or someone. Add to this that I’ve just found out that due to a schoolwide shuffle, I will be receiving another five students in the class, with two of them being particularly tricky. This will bring my total to twenty-nine students. A Stage Three primary classroom is allowed to hold thirty students which would be perfectly acceptable except for the fact that half of these students drain so much time and energy they may as well be considered three students instead of one. This, of course, isn’t factored in.

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My nights are spent constantly stressing, my anxiety is flaring up and I drag myself to school every day. I start the day positive, hopeful that today will be different, but it never is. I’m floating, barely breathing and almost ready to drown. This is a sentiment experienced by so many teachers I know.

So what does the Department of Education decide? Rather than distributing more funding, supporting teachers, doing something to alleviate the problem, they do the exact opposite. DATA. Let’s collect data and more of it and more of it in the hope that this will fix the problem. Hundreds of indicators and boxes checked off to track numeracy and literacy outcomes for each student. Hours upon hours put in by already exhausted teachers to keep this up to date even when they know it’s not what their students need. That data doesn’t reflect the student who comes from an abusive family. That data doesn’t reflect the student who uses music as their therapy. That data completely overlooks the student whose behaviour constantly detracts from the learning of others.

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We don’t need more data, more paperwork, more stuff to fill our heads with. I’m barely surviving each day. Has anyone ever asked what teachers need? I’m sick and tired of being told I have heaps of holidays and great pay when it all means nothing. I would happily take a pay cut if it meant less workload and smaller class sizes so I could actually teach.

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Teaching. Remember that word? My career, and sadly something I don’t spend most of my day doing. If I were to really break down my week, I’m certain I spent the majority of it managing behaviour and filling out paperwork than actually teaching. Data input takes up so much of my time that I barely have the energy to plan and create high quality educational experiences for my kids. I feel dictated to follow a program that is so jam packed I can’t do anything in a valuable and authentic way. I’ve completely lost my passion for teaching because I no longer have the flexibility to teach students the way I know they learn. It’s all about assessment and data and testing. I’m fed up and I’m not going to spend most of my days fighting off tears and anxiety. It’s not worth it when we only have one life to live.

Why would the Department or the government actually care about this and implement policies that will make a real difference? Instead teachers are running out of the profession, disillusioned by our education system and feeling powerless to change it. I’ve quit once, travelled and re-entered the career and I’m now on the verge of quitting again.

Why is it that we put plans in place to support students’ academic and emotional needs, we ensure parents are always happy, we put school plans in place, but there are never plans to assist with teacher wellbeing? It sounds obvious but if teachers keep leaving the profession, where does that leave society as a whole? Why is the mental health of teachers brushed under the carpet as though it is somehow less important than everything else going on in school? Are we not meant to be the most valuable part of the school community?

So here’s my question. I’m a high quality teacher, someone who cares and really wants to make a difference but I’m almost out the door. What is the Department of Education going to do about it?

Have you had a similar experience as a teacher? Let us know in the comments below. 

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