I am a teacher and I am tired. I’m tired because it’s an extra long term and I have to keep battling. I am tired with the end of the year fatigue that comes from pushing so hard. And I am tired of every Tom, Dick, and Hairy telling me why I’m tired.
Today as I opened my 2017 weekly planner and began entering in next year’s dates I noticed a new feature, a weekly tip at the top of the page. As I read the tips, I saw red. Among the gems listed was a tip to remember student names and use them inside and out of the classroom to build rapport, and to go to my bed at a regular time to regulate my body clock.
As I filled in dates for the first term and flipped pages the quotes assaulted me with their condescending tone. I called the company to complain and was told that this was a new feature to attempt to support teachers, especially new teachers, in light of the fact that between 30 to 50 per cent of teachers leave within their first five years of teaching.
I told the company spokesperson that I didn’t understand how a weekly quote at the top of the page that states the bleeding obvious was going to help teacher retention. After I finished venting and hung up I tried to work out what it was about this that made me so bloody angry and I guess it’s because it’s another example of teachers being blamed for the ills that beguile my profession. In this instance it seems we are too stupid to know how to conduct ourselves in and out of the classroom and need a little titbit of inspiration to guide us.
A study of 160 primary and secondary school teachers, published in the Australian Journal of Education, concluded that it wasn’t all teachers who leave, just those who have lower levels of resilience. Judy Crowe, president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary School Principals (VASSP), was on Jon Faine’s radio show and she suggested that teachers should go where the jobs are, namely rural areas. I’m unsure how leaving their family, support systems, and being in a completely new setting and environment was going to help teachers remain in the profession, especially in light of the fact that we know that those workers who are lacking support systems suffer higher rates of mental issues, just look at fly-in fly-out miners.
But then what do I know? I’m just a teacher who is in her third year of the profession. In this time I have spent most of my working life on a contract, and have finally achieved the holy grail of an ongoing position at a school with robust enrolments. I have spent every year updating copious amounts of documentation, first to be in line with the Australian Curriculum that was introduced nationally, and then updating them again to be in line with the Victorian Curriculum that we must now follow. I have seen teaching hours increase, planning time decrease, and expectations on teacher accountability and reporting increase.
AEU conducted a survey about teacher workload and 80% of teachers reported working unpaid overtime of up to 53 hours a week, and 90% of teachers reported that the workload negatively affects the quality of the their teaching.
Perhaps in two years time I will prove my resilience and commitment to the teaching profession when the five year timeline passes and I will not be so sensitive to the criticism that blames teachers for our supposed failures, rather than the system that creates them. Until then I will focus on the best part of my day which is the hours that I spend in my classroom with students who inspire me, and try to drown out the noise and blame game that tears me down outside of it.
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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