Education Week reports on a study that adds to the literature on linkages between teacher and student stress.

First, let me get this out of the way.

For the study, researchers surveyed 17 teachers in grades 4 to 7 on their potential burnout, and then tested over 400 students in those teachers’ classrooms for stress levels by collecting saliva samples three times in one day.

I get it, cortisol levels. Gross.

There are, of course, limitations to this kind of research.

But from an anecdotal standpoint, this makes a ton of sense. Even if you think about when a test is administered throughout a school. The entire culture changes. The adults are on edge because of security concerns and the additional people in the building just waiting for folks to make a mistake. Not to mention that your life’s work is be evaluated by something you’ve never seen before and won’t ever get to see. (You may get results by February of the next school year, BTW. Good luck with that.)

In a school like ours, which is a “priority,” we have eight different people coming by telling us what we’re doing wrong on this checklist or that. These hit and run, ten minute observations. We have to abide by several checklists in fact for a variety of competing requirements. It almost feels like every single interaction you have with administration, or his or her close circle, could land you in the hot seat.

When I’ve had a bad observation, before I get around to feeling sorry for myself, I begin by blaming the students. Why couldn’t you just follow directions, or sit down, or whatever? I’ll admit, I’ve gotten short when I returned from a feedback meeting, and I almost need some time away to cool down. And these are five and six year old kids, mind you.

When someone at work is undervalued, not appreciated, and lacks autonomy, how could this not have an impact on our students? Additionally, in schools where students are already stressed by their circumstances of, Christ, living and breathing, then leadership should get the message that how they treat the adults impacts how our students learn.

What classes or degree programs do leaders take that tell them this is how you treat people?

 

 

No, I’m not talking about the art, music, and PE teachers, who are, in my experience, typically referred to as teaching the “specials.” I’m not even talking about the special education teams.

I’m referring to the other “specialists,” your behavior specialists, reading specialists, intervention specialists, and even your “deans.” Staff members not attached to classrooms and the frequent instruction of students can disrupt and undermine the work of classroom teachers.

Let me reiterate: they can, not that they inevitably will.

Regular classroom teachers are caught in a bind. They do the most important work in any school. For all intents and purposes, they should be in charge and the highest paid. Without teachers, a principal is nothing, and a principal is only as good as the autonomy they offer their teachers. Caught working with students, and pretty much anchored to a classroom for the entire school day, teachers have less time, or no time at all, to participate in school-level decisions. Many decisions are made without input from teachers because of how quickly they need to be made, and how unavailable teachers are to make them.

Enter your “specialists.” Unlike classroom teachers, their job duties are more vague, ill-defined. Their time is not micro-managed. In that role, I’ve seen them become experts at looking busy, but accomplishing very little. What is crucial to their work, however, is the proximity in which they are able to work with the principal, thereby participating in decision-making that should be better left to classroom teachers. Contrary to classroom teachers, their jobs don’t require as much accountability, yet the decisions they make with the principal’s ear can impact the accountability to which classroom teachers are held.

Inasmuch as teaching is different than, say, office work, a school is still a workplace. And just like any other office, there are certain individuals who jockey for positions and favors, trying at all times to make their jobs seem more important, relevant, more interesting, and busier than they actually are, while at the same time increasing the demands on classroom teachers.

Beware the specialists.