Teacher wellness: On the decline?

Jess Ledbetter Uncategorized

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Want to know what I’ve been wondering about lately? I want to know if teacher health/wellness is declining amidst the pressure of educational reform today. A few days ago, I was walking behind a colleague and noticed that this person had gained some weight. It was nothing major–just something I observed. The observation prompted personal reflection. I thought about the changes in my own health and wellness over the past few years: the smaller clothes (now at the back of the closet), the infrequent trips to the gym, the lack of sleep, the quick meals on my way home when I’m wiped out, and the rare opportunities to actually EAT during my “lunch break” (a.k.a. more work time)! Being a teacher today is CHAOTIC! Though some of my colleagues sweat out their stress at the gym regularly, I am experiencing waning commitment to healthy outlets for releasing stress. This week, I’ve been wondering: Is it harder for teachers to find time for health and wellness given the many aspects of their jobs today?

My gut tells me: YES. I think the educational climate of “reform,” accountability, and the multi-faceted nature of the job keep educators busy long before and after the school bells. Finding balance is incredibly challenging in education today because there is a lot to do! Some SfS bloggers have offered great examples in recent posts below. I see it in my own practice, too. Every time I turn around, there seems to be a new initiative to connect with families, another way to track/report student progress, a new committee/club looking for teacher volunteers, another meeting to attend, a new form to fill out, another grant to submit for classroom supplies, and more items on the staff meeting agenda afterschool. Is this the price of being a “teacher?” I only seem to think about my health and wellness when I get to a breaking point, like when I get really sick or find myself completely exhausted. Otherwise, it’s ‘boots on the ground’ go, go, go, go, GO! Teachers are world changers, and we don’t like to stop and think about ourselves. How does that affect our health when there are so many things to do as a teacher today?

To take this further, serving as a teacher-leader adds additional responsibilities. I believe that teacher-leadership is essential in the profession, but it takes a huge toll. Every time I turn around, there is another training to plan, another teacher with a (great!) question, or a new resource I’d like to create. Of course, these duties come on top of my commitment to being an excellent teacher for my students. Good teachers who are also teacher-leaders are BUSY! Is this the price of “teacher leadership?” I can’t possibly count the Red Bulls that have kept me going with energy and enthusiasm despite very little sleep. But I’ll stop there with this one. Teacher leadership is worth it.

How does all of this affect the health and wellness of teachers? In a profession with high levels of attrition, could teachers be leaving because the stress/wellness issues are overwhelming with limited time for improvement? Additionally, declining health and wellness would be a serious concern for school districts that are self-insured. This past year, I heard about a local school district that increased employee healthcare contributions (what teachers pay to the district) by $700! A representative from that district said, “Employees need to get healthier to keep the cost down.” Talk about a double-edged sword. This profession requires more hours than other fields of work. Worse yet, many other fields have accepted long hours as common practice in the American workplace. I’d like to go on the record here: I don’t think that long work hours are good for health and wellness at all.

So what does the research say? I checked out keywords including: teacher, declining, health, and wellness in various combinations using Google News and Google Scholar. Unfortunately, there was nothing specific to teachers and their health/wellness. So does this mean that teacher health and wellness is not declining? Or does it mean that no one is asking questions or studying this topic? Sorry to say: I don’t have the answers there. But I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you think that teacher health and wellness are declining in education today? What other research/news do you think relates to this topic?

When you’re ready to share your thoughts, come and find me. I hope I’ll be at the gym.

 

I teach preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. I am 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. I earned my doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU. My research explored how early career special education teachers collaborated with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms. I believe all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. I am passionate about National Board Certification, mentoring early career teachers, improving teacher retention, elevating teacher voice, and collaborating with a network of courageous educators who passionately advocate for kids and schools. I believe that real-life stories from our schools should inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities. Therefore, I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my stories here. I welcome your comments on my blog posts and hope that we can advance the dialogue together.

Comments 7

  1. Jen Robinson

    Hi Jess-
    Thanks for posting this topic. You are right we seldom find the time to stop and think about ourselves. The nature of our job today as teachers, educators and teacher leaders is go, go, go, and GO a little bit more. Yes, teacher leadership is worth it, but at what cost?
    I admit to getting up every morning between 4:00-4:30 to run with my dogs. At first it was all about them. I have to take them, they need a walk. However, in reflecting it is about me – I need a run! If I don’t run or at the very least walk in the morning the stress of the job gets the best of me. But here is the sad thing, before the dogs came along 3 years ago, I did not exercise. I made excuses. So again it leads back to being proactive for ourselves – why don’t we do what is best for our health and well being?
    I guess we all need a dog or two to keep us healthy and keep the demands of teacher leadership in check.

  2. Jess Ledbetter

    Jen, maybe I will start taking my parrot for a morning run! :) LOL. One thing that caught my attention the other day was a new twist on laughing groups. Have you heard of this? Laughing groups are people who get together to LAUGH–that’s it. I first heard about it a few years ago. Recently, I heard that people are involved in cyber-laughing groups using online meeting software. My first thought was: sad, people have to get online to have community. My second thought was: I wonder if some teachers could benefit from this? :)

  3. Misha Freeman

    Jess,
    It’s great to know I am not alone. I am trying so hard this year to extent my reach as a “teacher leader” that I often find with a full day of work, meetings after school and then all my late night webinars for the leadership groups I am a part of, plus teaching methods courses once a week until 9:45 at night there is no time! Sunday morning seems to be the only day I can make it to the gym for a little relaxing yoga. I am not sure what the answer is but this year more than ever I am finding that scheduling time for the gym has been harder than ever.

  4. Jen Robinson

    Jess-
    As quirky as it sounds – laughing clubs might be the way to go. If we hold fast to our webinars and evening zoom meetings for leadership – why not create a space for teachers or anyone to laugh and rejuvenate??? Let me know your route if you go parrot running, as I am embarrassed to say the girl dog is a bird hunter (LOL) leaps clear into the air to catch a sleepy dove. Maybe our pet antics would be the first topic for the laugh club?!

  5. Christine Porter Marsh

    Nice job, Jess,
    To answer your question, “Or does it mean that no one is asking questions or studying this topic?” I think it means that no one is asking questions. I’m glad that you are bringing up this dialogue: we need to discuss it more often then we currently do.

  6. Christine Porter Marsh

    I rejuvenate by allowing myself to get bored. I’m on fall break this week, and while I do plan on catching up on things (like reading these wonderful blog postings), I will also make sure that there are blocks of time with nothing scheduled…hopefully at least one block of time that’s long enough to make me antsy or bored. I’m not easily bored, though, so it takes a pretty big block of time for me to get that way. It’s the best way to recharge that I’ve come across.

  7. Sandy Merz

    There’s a classic line – feed the teachers or they eat the students. There should also be one about self-care. In working with teachers across the country who are working on the Teacher Leader Initiative I hear from so many how much health their sacrificing to do one more thing. My standard line that I say over and over, is, “You have to be human first. If you have an hour left in your day and have to decide between a webinar or your kid’s soccer game, go watch your kid. If it’s 7 pm and you have a scratch in your throat and 5 hours of work ahead you and know you’re going to catch cold, go to sleep at 8 and fight that cold off.”
    You’re post is so timely thank you.

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