Pressures of Teaching: Decreasing Our Effectiveness?

It’s football season! A few weeks ago, I heard someone talking about a kicker who missed an easy field goal and lost the game. You’ve seen this type of situation before, right? The game is nearly over, the team is in position to score, the expert kicker confidently walks onto the field, the fans think it’s a sure thing, and…he misses. The fans groan and everyone shakes their head. How could this happen?

Put simply, stress affects human responses. And chronic stress impairs memory and decision-making. I started thinking about the pressure on teachers today and wondered: Could stress and pressure be causing teachers to “miss a few field goals” out there?

Teaching is like living in a pressure cooker. There is so much going on in our schools—and so much pressure to perform. Assessment is on the rise and the stakes are higher than ever! On top of that, the rise in afterschool tutoring programs (often funded by grants) keeps teachers busy long after the normal workday. Schools have less support staff like campus police officers and school counselors. Administrators have less time for teachers because they are over-burdened with growing responsibilities for teacher evaluation, stretching meager budgets to meet the school’s needs, and filling roles like “officer” and “counselor” when students need this type of support. As the pressure builds up, there aren’t many supports in place to help teachers release that steam.

Given this pressure, teachers are stressed out at work. This stress seeps into their home life because most teachers would say that working from home (or working late at school after students go home) is unavoidable. It seems increasingly common for Americans to work at home outside the “traditional” workday, but I think this is especially troubling to teachers. I’ve noticed that many teachers have strong values for childrearing and family life that influence their desire to teach as a profession. Work/life balance is a common topic of concern in my teacher circles. Perhaps the requirement for teachers to work at home directly conflicts with their need to spend time with children and family—which leads to discontentment with the profession as a whole.

On top of the pressure at work, teachers seem to be held to higher standards than any other profession out there! If you’re a teacher, you’re expected to act like a teacher 24/7. Recently, a friend told me that an administrator asked her to remove a Facebook post that said, “Thank goodness it’s Friday” because the administrator said it might seem like she doesn’t like her job or students. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty happy when the weekends roll around. It’s not because I don’t love my job or love my students—it’s because I teach my HEART out every week, and I need some time to recharge (and write my lesson plans for next week!!!)

When it comes to working conditions in this profession, I think that we need to start considering how stress could be affecting the effectiveness of teachers in classrooms and retention of professionals in the field. I’m fortunate to work at a Leader in Me school where “Sharpening the Saw” is valued and celebrated. I think we must encourage self-renewal on our campuses and professional circles to break through the stress, preserve our health, make effective educational decisions, and send those important field goals sailing safely between those glorious yellow posts when the pressure is on.

What pressures weigh you down in your professional life?

What solutions could release some pressure to maximize your talents in the classroom?

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Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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