What are the most stressful factors of being a public school teacher in the U.S.? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
I worked in inner-city Oakland for eight years. That doesn’t sound like a long time, but during that time, I worked with eight principals, five superintendents, and over a hundred teachers. The turnover was astronomical because of the stress. These are only some of the causes. I literally wrote a book about it.
- Teaching traumatized children. Many, if not most, of my students each year suffered from PTSD, but very very few were diagnosed. Children (and adults) have a remarkably hard time learning when traumatized - your brain just can’t take in new information, as it’s trying to survive. I had a lot of secondary trauma from trying to help the kids. Children who had seen their parents shot and killed the night before came to my third-grade classroom the next day, shaking, and I had absolutely no resources for them. No trauma counseling, no counselor, nothing. Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe it.
- Standardized testing. I was in the classroom during the height of No Child Left Behind and not only the country, but our district went crazy with standardized tests. We had to test children far too often and for far too long at a time. Sometimes we had to test them on subjects that we had not been allowed to teach yet. I had kids who used to love school who dissolved into tears by the end of third grade because “why do you let them give us so many mean tests?” At one point a consultant told us that it was statistically impossible for our school to do well enough on the test to not be under sanctions.
- Not being allowed to be a professional. I was a good teacher. I was trained, and I wanted to learn how to be better. But I was given scripts on how to teach something, pacing guides that often made zero sense, and rarely if ever allowed to use my judgment. I had to spend more time on a particular subject that the kids needed more help on or had a high interest in, or had to differentiate instruction in a way that was deemed necessary.
- Incompetent administrators. If I had had one good principal for eight years, I’d probably still be in the classroom. I had principals who were blatantly racist, totally hands-off, untruthful, vindictive, and more. The first principal I worked under never learned my name, calling me, “Mrs. Lady” for eighteen months. (The male teachers were “Mr. Man”). She also snapped at me, “I can have your job at any time, you know!” every time she was stressed.
- The low pay. It’s really really hard where I live to exist on a teacher’s salary. You’ll never be able to buy a house unless you marry someone who’s not a teacher. Many teachers can’t even afford to rent in the Bay Area, and have longer and longer commutes, adding to their stress. Also, that means they can’t live in the community they work in and have to skip many after-school and weekend events and not connect as much with the families they serve.
Many teachers will mention children and their behavior as the biggest source of stress, and that is also valid. I became superb at classroom management, learning how to respect children from vastly different cultures and subcultures in ways that they understood, and offering rewards and consequences that worked. That didn’t mean the kids never stressed me out, but they definitely didn’t make the top five. I miss the kids. I don’t miss the politics of the job.
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