Field goal

Pressures of Teaching: Decreasing Our Effectiveness?

Jess Ledbetter Uncategorized

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It’s football season! A few weeks ago, I heard someone talking about a kicker who missed an easy field goal and lost the game. You’ve seen this type of situation before, right? The game is nearly over, the team is in position to score, the expert kicker confidently walks onto the field, the fans think it’s a sure thing, and…he misses. The fans groan and everyone shakes their head. How could this happen?

Put simply, stress affects human responses. And chronic stress impairs memory and decision-making. I started thinking about the pressure on teachers today and wondered: Could stress and pressure be causing teachers to “miss a few field goals” out there?

Teaching is like living in a pressure cooker. There is so much going on in our schools—and so much pressure to perform. Assessment is on the rise and the stakes are higher than ever! On top of that, the rise in afterschool tutoring programs (often funded by grants) keeps teachers busy long after the normal workday. Schools have less support staff like campus police officers and school counselors. Administrators have less time for teachers because they are over-burdened with growing responsibilities for teacher evaluation, stretching meager budgets to meet the school’s needs, and filling roles like “officer” and “counselor” when students need this type of support. As the pressure builds up, there aren’t many supports in place to help teachers release that steam.

Given this pressure, teachers are stressed out at work. This stress seeps into their home life because most teachers would say that working from home (or working late at school after students go home) is unavoidable. It seems increasingly common for Americans to work at home outside the “traditional” workday, but I think this is especially troubling to teachers. I’ve noticed that many teachers have strong values for childrearing and family life that influence their desire to teach as a profession. Work/life balance is a common topic of concern in my teacher circles. Perhaps the requirement for teachers to work at home directly conflicts with their need to spend time with children and family—which leads to discontentment with the profession as a whole.

On top of the pressure at work, teachers seem to be held to higher standards than any other profession out there! If you’re a teacher, you’re expected to act like a teacher 24/7. Recently, a friend told me that an administrator asked her to remove a Facebook post that said, “Thank goodness it’s Friday” because the administrator said it might seem like she doesn’t like her job or students. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty happy when the weekends roll around. It’s not because I don’t love my job or love my students—it’s because I teach my HEART out every week, and I need some time to recharge (and write my lesson plans for next week!!!)

When it comes to working conditions in this profession, I think that we need to start considering how stress could be affecting the effectiveness of teachers in classrooms and retention of professionals in the field. I’m fortunate to work at a Leader in Me school where “Sharpening the Saw” is valued and celebrated. I think we must encourage self-renewal on our campuses and professional circles to break through the stress, preserve our health, make effective educational decisions, and send those important field goals sailing safely between those glorious yellow posts when the pressure is on.

What pressures weigh you down in your professional life?

What solutions could release some pressure to maximize your talents in the classroom?

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Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms. Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

Comments 6

  1. Danielle Brown

    Jess this is a great post, that I think many educators can relate too! As a profession we do work hard and past “working” hours. As I respond to this blog post on a Sunday afternoon, I have already spent 2 hours in the classroom and the past hours writing lesson plans.

    I release some pressure by going into work early during the week! It’s a great time for me to plan, copy, and prep uninterrupted, as my “planning” period is often filled with meetings.

    Another release is giving myself one day during the weekend to no turn off the pressure. I put it on the back burner in order to recharge myself, which makes me better for my students.

    Thanks for this post!

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      I once discovered that taking my lesson planning home over the weekend was disastrous to my mental health. I would spend all weekend worrying about the lesson plans–and rarely ever get time to work on them before Sunday night. I changed my routines so that I always had them done by Friday, and it was such a good thing for me. In my new position, I’m back to lesson planning over the weekends again and feeling the same burden! I’ve been working to redistribute my time so that I can get back to my Friday deadline mandate :) Or at least…Saturday morning so I don’t think about it all weekend. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m making improvements!

  2. Treva Jenkins

    Thank you for your post Jess and it’s so timely right now. This is truly one of our most busiest times of the year as educators, and this is especially true for our first year teachers; they are really feeling the pressure right now with formal evaluations. “When it comes to working conditions in this profession, I think that we need to start considering how stress could be affecting the effectiveness of teachers in classrooms and retention of professionals in the field.” So true! This issue definitely needs to be studied more and specifically with teachers new to the profession. In my work, as a mentor teacher, so often I see school leaders and coaches sometimes mis-diagnosing a problem when they come across a teacher who is struggling in the classroom; their advice, at times, leads to programs or PD that are less effective than they might be, and which are sometimes entirely counter-productive. Most of my new teachers I have seen in this situation are not there because they lack understanding of school policies, or methods and techniques of pedagogy. It’s not because their commitment to improving the lives of their students is missing. Instead they are generally overwhelmed mentally and emotionally; they are completely stressed out. The pressure cooker has imploded. Just as we focus on the whole child, we need to focus on the whole teacher. I believe this inattention to a teacher’s social and emotional well-being weakens our long-term development of teachers significantly. From the very beginning, we should be preparing our teachers more skilfully, avoiding much of the collateral damage and erosion of those first few rough years. W e should give them an understanding of what their whole mind and body will be doing during each phase of their teaching journey. Maybe just maybe if we gave teachers strategies for working with their physical response, their presence and shape in the classroom, so they can access tools and resources to handle the amount and quality of energy that is coming at them, they might stay with us after year five.

    Jess I really, really love this blog!! You have inspired me to tackle this idea and notion of the wholeness of teachers in my next blog! Thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront :)

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      Such great comments here, Treva! I love how you brought up the “interventions” we give to new teachers to improve their success…that just bog them down and take away more time. It must be so hard for administrators/coaches to make these types of decisions to help professionals refine their craft. This is an especially great quote: “Just as we focus on the whole child, we need to focus on the whole teacher. I believe this inattention to a teacher’s social and emotional well-being weakens our long-term development of teachers significantly.” I totally agree. Interestingly, I work on a campus of seasoned professions…who talk about the overwhelming responsibilities of the job just as much as new teachers. It feels like the overwhelming workload just keeps going and going no matter how many years we’ve all been teaching. This year, I transferred to a new position and I am really feeling the pressure–just like anyone who has ever transferred grade levels or special ed populations. Every little “extra” thing feels like so much extra weight on top of trying to get my brain around the new curriculum and making great plans for my students. Things are so fast paced around schools. It really does take a toll on a teacher’s well-being when there’s not enough time in the day for the workload. Looking forward to reading your follow up blog!!!

  3. Angelia

    I love the analogy of the field goal kicker. The pressure is real and it can be hard to manage. I remember a conversation between colleagues a few years ago. We actually sat down and tried to determine ways in which we could 100% ensure that the pressures we felt were being kept away from students. We knew we didn’t ever want frustrations around policies and mandates to inter fear with the love and safety our students needed from us at school. The pressure is clearly effecting our profession and those choosing to enter it. I am so glad your administration honors time to sharpen the saw and love on your own family. Balance should have it’s place in every profession, education is no different.

  4. Christine Porter Marsh

    I agree with pretty much everything you said, and I’d add this: I wonder how much of an impact that the pressures of school has on our students. How many field goals are they missing because of stress and pressure?

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