I am increasingly becoming concerned with just how much we're expecting of our new teachers particularly if we want them on board for the long haul. Many teachers can be financially better off in other professions with arguably less stress so we as a teaching community need to ensure that we are proactive and take care of our own. We need to make sure that those new to the profession have the time and space to find their feet and arguably find themselves as well.
A number of schools are literally shutting down their physical environments over at least half their holiday periods to try and allow staff appropriate rest and recuperation. The only problem now-a-days (in the digital age) is that we don't physically have to be on site to be planning, marking or corresponding with other teachers or educators. Other schools are sending staff home with (in effect) closing times. Why? Well for a start, such actions often lead to less sick days and better continuity for students and teachers in terms of the teachers being present and well in the classroom. I think however it's more than that now. One of my former principals was of the belief that no matter what work was done in advance, the senior managers could only leave after all teachers had done so each day. This stance caused unnecessary stress and disbelief. Many of us work best from home and after a decent break. In my view, professionals should rarely work to time but to task completion and need to be trusted to do so.
In my early teaching days, we were also expected to set work and mark set work, repeat, repeat and repeat. It was almost as if the student achievement was going to get better merely through marking, again and again and again. It was a badge of honour to be taking a crate of exercise books home and if not, it was presumed that such duty had been done in school before one had left. In retrospect, this was farcical and appears in hindsight to be more about administration than education. I probably formally mark today about 1/10th of what I used to do when I started out 16 years ago. However when I do mark, it counts. I know it's important and so do my students due to the rarity but precision and timeliness of this marking. In reducing the marking by so much, there is naturally much more time for learning and the building of an appropriate education course for my students. It also means that learning is clearly prioritised to my students and that this learning is important in its own right and not just as a means to an end.
The vast majority of teachers work incredibly hard and smart in my experience, in many cases teaching 5 or 6 classes a day. I used to feel awkward when the amount of "holidays" availed to teachers ever came up in public discourse. The conversation usually came down to the suggestion that teaching was pretty "cruisy" with all those holidays. In reality, I know of very few teachers that don't spend at least a third of all their holidays working on either pedagogy or resources. Now, I'm quite prepared to ask any person that questions the amount of holidays given to teachers as why they are not in the teaching profession. The most prompt and common response is that the job looks too stressful and that the students are too hard to control!
My current principal has an awesome saying "if you're in, you're on." In other words if you turn up to Aorere College as a teacher, you must be ready to give your all to the students in your learning spaces. Too many teachers sacrifice their health to come in when they shouldn't. Ultimately the selfless nature of teachers in this situation causes more harm than good and in a number of cases, they get even more sick, and even up taking a number of days off due to ill-health and often end up making their colleagues sick in the process. Part of teachers' refusal to take medical breaks when needed I believe stems from an almost "hero" complex where even for one day, many teachers believe they're irreplaceable and just have to be physically present in the classroom. I never took a sick day in my first two years of teaching and on reflection, this was pretty stupid. My students would have benefited from me taking a short break and returning in more appropriate physical and arguably emotional decision.
In reality, teaching is a wonderful but stressful and frustrating undertaking. Once day you're hero, the next zero. In order to have the best educators in front of our students now and in the future, it is essential that we ensure that teachers take care of themselves...whether they like or not!