Treat Teachers Well Pt. 2
This article looks at how high school English teachers have been treated after carrying out mini interviews with international teachers.
This article (in 2 parts) is dedicated to all those hard-working teachers who are not fairly treated, one way or another. As a novel approach, three teachers from the Maldives, Romania and the USA, respectively, as well as the author’s contribution about the Netherlands, respond to two more questions and all recount real-life experiences and observations made whilst working as teachers in those countries.
Watch this if you have an ELT business
All conclusions made are based on the first hand experiences of the author and those of the contributors from three different continents.
Are teachers respected and supported by management/the principle?
According to a head-mistress and former teacher, “they are mostly respected by the community, but nevertheless there are instances where the parents and community demand so much from the schools and its teachers”.
On another note, she went on to remark that “enthusiastically and positively driven teachers study on their own to better themselves and must study on their own expenses”.
After working at a private secondary school, I was shocked to discover that at parents’ evenings, teachers are often subjected to verbal abuse from demanding and confrontational parents while there seems to be no backup available. As clear as day, on one such occasion, a poor colleague was chastised in front of other parents and teachers without the principle intervening in a timely manner to save him from the degradation. The teacher must feel that he/ she is supported, especially in times of need.
All in all, if there any grievances, then they are likely to be bottled up and repressed as teachers are often scared of losing their jobs; for the most part they do not challenge the powers that be.
A first degree teacher commented: “I can say that I am respected, but as long as I do whatever they want. I have the feeling that the moment I do something wrong, I won’t be shown very much respect”.
A Hawaii based special Eds teacher told me that “I gave a kid detention for having food in class. This was my first year of teaching and I followed all the rules. I was chaperoning a Halloween dance and was all dressed up in a 1970’s costume. I was called down to the office and was surprised by an unexpected meeting. The principal was sitting around the table with the parents and the student. I was so embarrassed and shocked! There I was in costume explaining the situation and he ripped up the detention paper in front of everyone. To make matters worse, the kid was let off without punishment and he knew he had the power from then on”.
Nowadays, high school teachers are disrespected by management or the principle and not given enough support. Whether it be a lack of financial support or responsibility for career development, at a humiliating parents evening, obeying autocratic leadership or when a teacher’s informed decision is not backed up, the result is the same; teachers are being treated badly.
To get to the crux of the matter, in order to prevent this from happening, good leadership is imperative. If you have been affected similarly, after doing the research into your options, you could stick up for yourself or your colleagues by contacting a teacher’s union representative, writing a petition for change to the appropriate ministry (if appropriate), and by opening up a dialogue with those who share your concerns.
Are teachers put under unnecessary pressure?
“Yeah, teachers are expected to be of good quality and the PTA and the school boards put a lot of pressure on the school. Also, the teacher turnover rates are quite high. You see, mostly ladies are attracted to the profession as it has always been, and some survive this challenging profession with family pressure and the school. Sadly, vibrant and enthusiastic teachers who join the profession do not last long. In my case, teaching alongside handling family responsibilities with three children, was a tough thing”.
Burn-out is a huge problem here and talking about it remains a taboo:
and . This stress-related psychological condition can potentially incapacitate a teacher for months.
Three former colleagues of mine actually left their jobs because of this, which had been down to irresponsible management. In other words, they were put under too much pressure from the school. You may be able to help a fellow member of staff at your school by being aware of the warning signs as seen here after some case study research: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teacher-burnout-warning-signs-maurice-elias
Back to the three ex colleagues: one maths teacher, for example, was expected to have higher results on average; this made it very stressful for him. A German teacher (with experience teaching special needs children) had had enough of the bad behaviour of her students and the lack of support from management, which had made her life so difficult. Lastly, after a long stressful tenure culminating in burn-out, a seasoned history teacher was told he was bad at his job and got fired.
‘’Some countries keep statistics on burnout. In Germany, where burnout is covered by some insurance policies, 5% of the population between 25 and 45 years of age are being treated for burnout. In the Netherlands, roughly 10% of the workforce is burned out at any given time, with teachers and primary care health professionals most burned out. Statistics are not complete in the USA for various reasons of data privacy’’ (http://www.wellklar.com/market-size-analysis-for-burnout 2014) Unfortunately, there are a lack of global statistics regarding burnout rates in teachers across continents; this is unhelpful when coming to terms with the condition and how big a problem it is on the world stage; it would certainly be very useful to have access to more data on this matter.
If you or somebody you know is aware of bad management at a school, then contact your teacher’s union if they can make a difference in your country, write a petition and send it to the ministry of education if they can help, and start such a discussion amongst fellow teachers to play a part in reversing this ugly trend:
“There is unnecessary pressure. For example, we have to do minutes for every activity that we do, and especially for the extracurricular ones. We have a lot of committees in our schools, and we have to put those minutes for activities in each committee file. Another aspect that causes pressure is that the Romanian Government invented a new organisation to control our activities. And when they come to schools, they only check the papers! Sometimes, we do not have time to prepare our lessons, because of all this bureaucracy” .
“Burn-out is a very real phenomenon with serious consequences for both the schools and the teachers. In my school, the turnover of math teachers is so severe that we have had 17 different teachers in 5 years. (There are 7 math positions in the school if Special Education is included.) This year, two new math teachers quit by the end of the first quarter, and now the students have a different sub every day; they are literally not being properly educated in math. One of those teachers told me that ‘if this is teaching, I didn’t want any part of it and I can make a lot more money working 4 hours a day at my boyfriend’s real estate company’.
For years, I had to single-handedly develop the curriculum for ESL (English as a second language) students so that it mirrored the mainstream curriculum. I taught 4 different subjects (Language Arts for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade & Social Studies for 7th grade), and I had to heavily modify each one of them for all levels of ELL (English language learners). Imagine teaching Steinbeck to a beginner! I honestly had enough work to keep me busy 24/7, but I refused to spend my whole life on this task, so I learned shortcuts. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have survived. I was in that position for 11 years, it was not filled when I left, and the person who did take it eventually quit before the end of the year. The stress causes health problems. I have had pneumonia, bronchitis and plenty of anxiety. I am doing better now that I’m in a different teaching position.
Further, I knew a teacher who got cysts on her ovaries from stress – her doctor confirmed this- and another with heart problems from stress. Much of the time, we barely have enough time to eat or even to use the restroom. My father is a family doctor and he told me that his patients who are teachers have disproportionate amounts of anxiety, depression, and urinary tract infections”.
When boards or government organisations pressurise management and, in turn, stressful situations are passed on or delegated, teachers become ill. The issue of burn-out needs to be out in the open and not swept under the carpet, so that those afflicted can be better protected.
As the power lies with the authorities to make changes, in a democratic country, the responsibility must be with the ministry of education. Based on the corroborated eyewitness accounts and the statistics from all over the world, governments need to do a lot more to combat this problem. The reader can certainly do something: starting a petition to protect the health of teachers with respect to the dangers of burn-out would depend on the country as to how effective such a call to action would be. For example, with a certain amount of signatures, this could be heard by parliament. Contact your union where appropriate and start meaningful discussions with co-workers. If there is the possibility to make a difference, i.e. in a just society, then it is a fact that doing something rather than nothing will be positive and constructive. With enough pressure applied, then teachers should receive more protection.
If you wish to submit your own online petitions, suggest other remedies to these issues, or just leave a comment, we’d like to hear from you!