Just Say No - Not So Easy!
As we again have to deal with a lockdown and we move into the new term we are once more confronted with the challenge of home schooling. And, again teachers will rise to the occasion, working above and beyond what would reasonably be expected to ensuring that the kids’ education will continue. However, I am quite fed up with the politician’s and bureaucrat’s insipid declarations of their gratitude for the great work done by those same teachers on behalf of the students. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the staggering effort made by teachers at this time it is that teachers are constantly asked to meet unrealistic demands and this is resulting in burnout and the subsequent loss of student’s learning.
The Department and Government acknowledge the problem of burnout and they have produced plenty of advice on how to avoid it. Likewise, I have addressed the importance of looking after yourself in previous Newsletters (see Looking After Yourself - 2 September 2019). Working in an environment that demands more than can be delivered without compromise leads to burnout and if this is happening to you will notice changes to your physical and emotional wellbeing as well as changes in your behaviour.
In that Newsletter I also considered the five causes of burnout; these being:
1. Work Overload
2. No Autonomy
3. Under Valued
4. Not Supported in the Workplace
6. The ‘Meaning’ of your Work
I would contend that all of these characteristics exist across the teaching profession.
I have consistently advised that the best advice to combat burnout is to have strong personal boundaries (see Newsletter ‘Boundary Considerations’ – 31st July 2017) and the steps are:
1. Stay Calm
2. Ask the Questions - What is Really Happening?
3. Who is Responsible?
4. What Do I Want to Happen in the Long-Term?
This last question is critical. For this current dilemma the answer for the question what do I want in the long-term is that we are not burned-out!
If you look at the literature devoted to addressing the issue the pattern of advice is to consider things like ‘enjoy your work’, ‘consider finances’, etc. but within this information three themes stand out. These are:
- Know your Values - what is important to you in life.
- Practice Time Management - Review your typical week and cut down on time ‘wastage’ meetings.
- Set Boundaries - Set limits on your work time and set aside time for other activities. Learn how to say ‘no’.
For teachers, I contend the overwhelming value is to provide the students with the best possible education. If other demands take you away from this fundamental goal you compromise your work. However, it is within the way you manage your time and if necessary say no to demands that distract you away from your core business the elements of a resolution can be found.
Let’s start with time management; the extraordinary demands on the modern teacher and school executive cannot be met within a forty-hour week unless there is a compromise in the quality of each task completed.
When the working conditions for a teacher were first established the negotiations were centred around the lesson preparation, face to face teaching and assessment such as homework and reporting. These were the conditions I had to meet when I started forty years ago. And, I can assure you that even then I did more than the forty hours expected but I still had time for my life.
Contrast those conditions with the demands placed on today’s teachers. In Victoria classroom teachers in both primary and secondary schools reported working an average of 53 hours per week. The changes in technology, the increase in student’s mental health issues, mandatory accreditation, repeated changes to curriculum, NAPLAN testing, School Reviews plus an increase demands on teachers to provide pastoral care and personal development lessons; all this and more has been added to our workload without any increase in real support. In an AEU survey of 3,591 teachers nearly three quarters of respondents felt they spent too much time on administrative tasks.
Here’s the thing; if we look at the practice of time management in a systematic way we could record the hours applied to the various demands on individual teachers, teaching with the preparation, marking, face to face, welfare etc., mandatory T&D, accreditation, administrative duties, playground duties, etc. When we have an unbiased and rational sample add up the hours for a week. Then compare those hours to a forty-hour week.
The next step is to cull any hours of work over the mandatory forty or what you are prepared to allocate. Be careful not to be too generous the goal is for you to have a healthy work/life balance! This is where the value of your work is contested. You can announce that you will not do certain tasks unless more support is provided and if you are directed to meet set obligations that are outside your adjudication ask what tasks you should not do to so those ‘obligations’ can be met, if you think it is necessary get those directions in writing.
This brings you to the moral challenge of saying no! This is a step that needs to be taken but one that takes a great deal of courage. If we want teachers not to burnout, not to leave the profession in droves as they do now, to be effective where it matters - in the classroom than we have to have the courage to say no to unachievable demands!
Remember that although the Department consistently praises the teachers for their efforts they never take any responsibility for their continued increasing demands on teacher’s time! In their WHS Policy they assert:
The department is committed to:
1.11 – providing everyone in its workplaces with a safe and healthy working and learning environment.
But this is never applied to teacher’s wellbeing.
I despair at the current state of our profession, we have lost sight of our core business teaching and the understanding that it is the personal connection between the teacher and the student that enriches the learning experience for the student. I have watched teacher’s focus being diverted from their classroom with dubious administration tasks and a continuous parade of ‘quality solutions’ such as leadership training! Teachers are qualified to teach and should be in class while they hone their skills on the job. Leaders will, as always emerge, those who best ‘do the job’ not pass the external test but more importantly kids will regain the full attention of their teacher!