One thing I’ve learned since becoming a supply teacher, bouncing from school to school like a bouncy rubber ball of adaptability and emergency lesson plans, is that there’s a staggering range of educational experiences in schools.
Depending on which school a student happens to end up in, the experience of education can range from the inspirational and rewarding to…let’s just say less than ideal.
The same is very much true for teachers. In a recent column, I mentioned an email I’d seen, sent by a teacher who was too stressed and exhausted to come to work. Good news for me, obviously: a day’s work is a day’s work. But clearly not so good for them.
Being a teacher is always a tough gig, but there are certain factors that can either make the job bearable – enjoyable even – or turn it into the stress-inducing nightmare we know it can become.
Most non-teachers assume that the students are likely to be the single biggest cause of stress. But they rarely are.
Sure, sometimes they absolutely are. We’ve all taught children who drive you nuts with their pissy attitude and uncanny ability to destroy the most well-crafted lesson with one carefully aimed comment.
For the most part though, the kids are well-meaning, keen to do at least some work and, above all, fun to be around. They’re really what makes the job worth doing.
Admittedly, there are some who are not so good at dealing with the day-to-day hassles in a mature and reasonable manner, and will often say or do things to annoy you or others. But that’s because they’re kids. They have to learn how to behave in polite society alongside how an oxbow lake is formed and all that other stuff.
If you do have to regularly try and manage a group of students who really don’t want to be taught, or – worse – who want to stop anyone else being taught, it can be very frustrating.
My tip is to keep them occupied with simple tasks – I once kept a particularly irritating child busy for a double ICT lesson by getting him to remove and reattach all the keys from the keyboards that other irritating kids had taken off and put in the wrong places. I didn’t hear another peep out of him for two hours.
This has to be a contender for the biggest cause of workplace stress for teachers. Being given more work to do, with no extra time to get it done, is never going to be popular. It wouldn’t be so bad, if it wasn’t that half the time the extra work amounted to nothing more than some bureaucratic bullshit waste of time that had no benefit to the students.
It’s not enough to have to do this pointless work – there’s very likely to be some additional task to do, to provide evidence that you’ve done the thing that you didn’t have time to do in the first place, and that didn’t have any value to anyone anyway.
This sort of nonsense is precisely why I quit my regular job and became a supply teacher. The schools and managers who are not willing to play this ludicrous game are the schools where you will find the happiest teachers and the lowest levels of stress.
Being treated like one of the students
Teachers often feel demoralised by the invidious trend of having their professionalism continually questioned.
Even the most gifted teacher can begin to doubt themselves when faced with a cabal of snarky senior managers, constantly pointing out what they’re not doing, rather than praising them for all the great things they do every day.
Imagine this crazy scenario: a lesson observation where the feedback was simply, “That was a fantastic lesson – keep it up.” Never gonna happen.
All of the above is really down to senior management. A good leadership team should focus on making the teaching staff’s job easy – after all, they’re the ones in the school doing all the heavy lifting.
My tip, the next time you’re thinking of working at a new school, is to ask the head how many rules, policies and directives they’ve got rid of in the last year. If they even engage with your question and start to answer, take the job.
The writer has recently taken up supply teaching after 20 years in a full-time teaching job