- Teachers are experiencing numerous stressors, from racism and violence to having to buy their supplies.
- We must give teachers the support to be effective, including providing adequate resources.
- We need to prioritize teacher well-being, not just student achievement.
Teachers in a post-COVID world are not doing well. Students are more rambunctious, their parents are more argumentative, classrooms are under-resourced, and pay lags behind inflation. For a profession that should bring high rates of job satisfaction, the truth on the ground is strife with burnout and early retirement.
Thinking about this in bite-size pieces isn’t going to work. The solutions need to be as complex as the problems.
Supporting Teachers: A Key to Student Success
In the past several months, my inbox has been deluged with reports focused on the well-being of teachers, concerned with everything from improving safety in the classroom to giving teachers more say over what they teach and how, and plenty of hints for self-care.
It all follows from the discovery more than a decade ago that happy, well-resourced teachers are a big part of the solution to raising student grade point averages, even in the poorest of communities (see, for example, Jennings and Greenberg’s work from 2009).
Unfortunately, it’s a path to better academic performance that continues to be largely ignored by those who set teacher salaries and provide everything from prep time to art supplies (both of which are in short supply in most public schools). Sadly, our belief in the resilience of the individual has made us forget that kids thrive when the environments that surround them are fully capable of facilitating their success.
What Educators Need
For educators, we need to give them the support they need to walk into classrooms confident, calm, and with all the supplies they need to do the job they’ve been asked to do. All over the United States and in other countries, teachers use their salaries to buy supplies for their classrooms.
They are putting up with increased threats to their safety and, too often, the verbal abuse of parents who refuse to acknowledge that their child is causing problems for their teachers, not the other way around.
According to a new report from Child Trends, educators (and all school support staff, including administrators) need mental and physical health support. The report recommends a range of psychosocial topics to focus on, from giving teachers more decision-making power in the classroom, emotional support, and ensuring that teachers from equity groups are treated fairly by school administrators, caregivers, and students (which means an end to racist and misogynistic insults).
Teachers Need More Than Just Supplies
It is much the same alarm bells being raised elsewhere, including in a recent collection of articles in Education Canada titled Building Resilience: Systems that Support Well-being, which suggested that teachers are becoming extremely stressed dealing with the delayed learning needs of students. They, too, need opportunities for their self-care, secure employment, and workplaces free of intimidation.
None of this is beyond reach. I have just finished a series of workshops for staff, students, and parents at Vail Mountain School, a stunning private K-12 institution in the Colorado mountains. With its strong emphasis on the outdoors as a medium for learning, as well as a curriculum that balances academic excellence with education in the arts, the entire package feels like a perfect place to teach.
The staff did indeed seem pretty charged up when I asked them about their school. But then maybe having a psychologist onsite to work with the kids, plenty of teaching supplies, a cafeteria serving healthy food, and a beautiful view makes job satisfaction that much easier. What’s intriguing, though, is that I’ve found the same satisfaction among educators working with the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB), a behemoth of a board with 115,000 students from a hundred-plus countries, with many coming from families that have experienced numerous intergenerational challenges related to racism, poverty, and violence.
And yet, while not every teacher in the EPSB is happy, one has a sense that there are plenty of educators who find meaning in their work and can inspire their students to be their best selves, too. The secret may be leadership trying its best to use its limited funds wisely and individual schools that do what they can to help their most vulnerable students.
In other words, supporting teachers to experience their workplaces as meaningful and providing as many resources as the school board can appears to be a formula for reasonably good student outcomes. Those outcomes are possible even without a view of mountain slopes or the advantages that come with a school supported by a community of wealthier patrons.
This tells me that if we have well-performing students, we must stop focusing exclusively on their well-being, motivation, and academic goals. Instead, thinking systemically, we would do better to shift our focus to the people educating our children and pause to consider if they have the support and resources they need to be effective.
Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). The Prosocial Classroom: Teacher Social and Emotional Competence in Relation to Student and Classroom Outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 79(1), 491-525. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654308325693