Fear and loathing in the classroom? Not exactly, but things aren’t that great either. According to a new study released last week by my union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the advocacy group the Badass Teachers Association (BAT), educators are feeling significantly more stressed these days.
As Education Week reports, “The survey found that educators find work to be stressful 61 percent of the time—and nearly a quarter of respondents said work was ‘always’ stressful. Meanwhile, workers in the general population report that work is stressful 30 percent of the time.”
The result of this is that the mental health of the educators who serve our children is suffering. USA Today’s coverage of the AFT/BAT study explains that of the teachers who were surveyed, “58% said their mental health was ‘not good’ for seven or more of the previous 30 days. A similar survey in 2015 found just 34% of respondents felt the same.”
As a consequence, the vast majority of teachers (78%) are not getting enough sleep and are coming to work and encountering students who are themselves experiencing significantly increased levels of stress and anxiety. The survey cites predictable causes for this stress from budget cuts, bullying, and a lack of support from the outside world and the media to distinctly new pressures such as the fragile circumstances of immigrant students and the toxic political environment after the election.
With regard to the academic circumstances of teachers, the biggest sources of stress have to do with a lack of control over key aspects of their jobs, as Education Week observes:
While most educators report having control over classroom-level decisions, like teaching techniques and homework and grading policies, they have less influence over schoolwide decisions. Most teachers have minor or no influence over school budget decisions, nearly half have little or no say in determining professional development content, and 40 percent said they have minor or no influence in establishing curriculum at their schools.
But what seems clearly evident to me as a community college teacher, is that it is the larger social and political factors that are pushing many educators beyond their normal limits. While the college level does not always have the same discipline issues that teachers in K-12 deal with, many of my colleagues at colleges across the country have had to deal with distraught immigrant students; a new level of fear, anxiety, and anger in the classroom; and what has struck me in the wake of the election as a general malaise at the state of the world hanging over everything we do.
So while educators and students at all levels have spent many years now dealing with the pressures that come with the multiple assaults on public education from budget shortfalls litany of other ill-conceived “reforms,” the addition of a federal administration openly hostile to public education and the ugly new zeitgeist of the Trump era seems to be making an already tough job even harder.
While those of us in education have unfortunately become accustomed to relentless public education bashing as the new normal in many quarters, what should clearly be unacceptable even to those who don’t particularly care about the mental health of educators is the long-term toll that turning our campuses into much more stressful places will have on our children. In many ways, schools are microcosms of the future of our society. Perhaps we should start thinking about treating them more tenderly.