With school shootings commanding the headlines, it’s easy to overlook another factor that affects the ability of teachers to do their jobs (“The hidden threat of teacher stress,” The Conversation, Mar. 2). Nearly half of all teachers say they experience high-level stress on a daily basis. That puts them in a tie with nurses.
Every job has stress, and not all stress is bad. But when it remains intense for a protracted time, it extracts a price not only on teachers but on students as well. When I began teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1964, I was advised by my colleagues to take a “mental health” day off from time to time. At first, I didn’t understand why that would be necessary. But I soon began to appreciate their recommendation as demands increased.
Teachers today no longer have the freedom I had so many decades ago. Pressure to post stipulated test scores and hit other targets has reduced them to virtual robots. Whatever creativity they would like to employ has taken a back seat to quantifiable outcomes. Even if teachers don’t quit, their morale suffers. It’s little wonder that of those who stay, nearly two-thirds were “not engaged,” according to a 2015 poll.
This often takes the form of burnout. I don’t see matters improving. If anything, it’s going to get worse as scapegoating intensifies. It’s time to consider buyouts for veteran teachers who are hanging on merely to maximize their pensions, which are based on salaries earned during the three highest years. Another way is to institute front-loaded compensation. Under this plan, teachers could choose to receive bigger increases in the earlier years of their career in exchange for reduced pensions. I intend to address this alternative in greater detail in a column next week.