Why teaching is the most stressful job in the world

Dramatic headline right? Why teaching is the most stressful job in the world. C’mon you’re kidding right? Well, if you have you ever been guilty of joking how easy teachers have it. Or, ever laughed or scoffed at a teacher’s pain points. You will usually find that your response is almost always around their holidays – “Yeah, doesn’t sound great, but you get 10 weeks leave a year, I’d love that”. Or perhaps, “You work from 9 to 3.30, it’s like a half day!”

I know I certainly have. However, I’d like to change the conversation around this, so in today’s post I will discuss ‘Why teaching is the most stressful job in the world’.

First things first, I’m not a teacher, so I have no agenda here. Like most of you however, I know quite a few. Until recent years I always thought along the same lines as most people I observe. Cruisey job. So what changed my perception?….. One thing, having kids!!!

We (my wife, Dr Vanessa & I) now have children of school age (primary). In the past 6 years I’ve been able to observe teachers from different vantage points. Through the lens of parent/teacher interviews, conversations with my kids and kids at their school and of course ‘The Parents’. I have even done numerous health talks to teachers in the school – surprise, surprise usually around stress.

Interesting observation – A friend of mine is principal at a local government Primary School (with over 1000 kids, WOW!!!). The teachers at his school worked a total of 205 days in 2018. To give that some context, another friend (of both of ours) works as a tradesman with union benefits, he calculated he worked 176 days in 2018, that’s 24 days or 3.5 weeks less!!! I then did it myself, we were in practice less days per year as well!!

The interesting thing for teachers is they work in an environment witha different organizational structure to most businesses. Let me expalin, unlike most businesses ‘Teachers have ‘3 masters’ to please or report. In most businesses around the world  there are only ‘2 masters’ – 1) The boss, owner or senior management and; 2) The customers.

So who do the teachers have?

1) School governance – ‘The Boss’
2) Children – ‘The Customers’
3) Parents – Boss?? Customer?? Or Meddling Middle management??

This is unusual in the work place and with this each ‘master’ requires a certain amount of time, effort and energy to keep satisfied. Parents in particular take note! What impact are you having on your child’s teacher stress levels?

I believe the extra responsibility of dealing and handling delicate situations with parents is, why teaching is the most stressful job in the world’.

Yes Parents, you!!

However before I hear all of you parents jumping up and down saying it’s not our fault, I want to assure you that as a parent myself who has little interaction with teachers I’m am a part of this as well.

Here is why?

Teachers are responsible for giving us lots of feedback. This is in the form of formal feedback (parent/teacher interviews) which is sometimes once per term. On top of that, there are the formal written reports at half year and end of year. And, if you’ve ever been in the school grounds when the day has finished you will see most teacher absorbed in conversation with differeent parents (granted not always dealing with issues). However, for better or worse there are lots of middle management dealings.

Next, there is the delicate balancing act of teaching and counselling of students. Children come from many and varied backgrounds, some supportive, some destructive, some fluctuate between the two. Their responses to situations are as varied as their backgrounds, some will retreat in their shells, other might lash out the teachers or other students and even others will show no sign of anything being a problem, even if there is.

Finally, the extra-curricular activities – school incursions & excursions, school camps, drama productions, sports carnivals, staff meetings, school fetes. These points don’t even cover the classroom and preparation work!!

For now, back to the parents…..

The original thought behind this blog came from observing parents in the play grounds after school. The different judgments, criticisms and demands that many of my friend’s where having on their child’s teacher was in my eyes unreasonable and not right.

I had to stop and asked myself, am I doing this as well? The answer, was at times – YES!

You see, one of the beautiful things as a parent is you mostly think your kids are awesome (which they are) however it is challenging not to get emotional when they are having challenges either socially or academically.

“She said this…, He said that…”

And in our efforts to support our children and protect them, we will often ask or challenge our teachers to essentially “look out for them”. It’s not an unreasonable request in my eyes; I’m not even suggesting we shouldn’t do it. However, and here is my point, it does add an extra layer of responsibility and stress on the teacher. Something else to manage and report on.

In the end, the teachers have the school council/governance to report to. They have the children to teach and counsel and they have the parents to reassure and inform. Why not throw in the steak knives of extra school activities and it’s a very demanding and stressful job.

So the next time you are about to have a laugh about how many holidays teachers get (and yes they may have more than you), ask yourself about your work place, “How many people do you have to report to, satisfy and support? Are any of them as emotionally invested as parents? How many of them are as dependent on you as a school aged child?

The answer will probably be none.