There have been profound changes in the work and workload of teachers.
During remote learning, both teachers and students discovered a new sense of autonomy.
Reprioritizing the focus of work for teachers is critical to the success of schools.
“A cold sweat shivered on my skin. This is it, I thought. This isn’t teaching. I’m not a teacher anymore… There’s something sinister happening to this profession that I loved. And it breaks my heart. We don’t trust our teachers anymore.”
In her book Teacher, Australian author Gabbie Stroud beautifully encapsulates what is happening by stealth to the teaching profession around the world. She continues,
“Good teaching …comes from teachers who know their students, who build relationships, who meet learners at their point of need and who recognize that there’s nothing standard about the journey of learning. We cannot forget the art of teaching – without it, schools become factories, students become products and teachers: nothing more than machinery.”
There have been profound changes in the work and workload of teachers. School education is becoming a much more bureaucratized system, asking more of teachers and getting less in return. The current workload is unsustainable and the pandemic is exacerbating teachers’ feelings of being silenced. A lack of respect, staffing challenges, low pay, high workload, conflicting demands and now the pandemic, have conspired to generate a perfect storm. 30% of Australia’s teachers are over 50. Education applications have plummeted by 20%. 48% of teachers are thinking of leaving the profession. Teacher workloads are “massive” and “unrealistic” (even though 87% of teachers still find teaching rewarding).
Schools now need to be run as if every teacher has one foot out the door. During remote learning, both teachers and students discovered a new sense of autonomy. Few lamented the loss of restrictive practices like early start times or only being able to eat or move when bells ring. Workers now have a sense of mobility they have never had before. In the United States, over 3 million people per month are walking away from their jobs and the same is occurring in Europe. These competitive labor market conditions and the ‘war for talent’ amplify the necessity for educational leaders to adopt innovative strategies to dynamically recruit and retain excellent teachers. We must rethink the entire way we staff and manage schools.
We should not be surprised if teachers are escaping from an education system that is milking them to serve a purpose that is not aligned with the reasons that they entered the profession to start with. Perhaps we are talking less about ‘burn-out’ and more about ‘moral injury’ – when people see that the systems they are in are not designed to properly support the people they are meant to serve.
Reprioritizing the work of teachers so that their focus is on actual teaching is critical to the success of schools and this is a crucial conversation for education leaders. The less meaningful and frustrating elements of teaching must be actively cleaned off the plate by targeting anything that reduces workload.
- Cancel meetings if they can be done by email instead. Many schools have moved information dissemination to asynchronous bulletins and recordings. When digital summaries are shared with teachers, it makes face-to-face conversations more effective (and staff happier).
- Can the requirements of the marking policy be reduced while still meeting its aims? Kat Howard writes about how whole class feedback is now an established feature in some school feedback policies and is a way of approaching feedback with the time/value cost mantra in mind.
- Lighten teachers’ lesson planning load by making sure teachers have shared, high-quality common instructional resources across subjects and/or year levels. Natasha Mercer uses a shared Google drive of lessons and has brought in Edrolo and Atomi as resources for flipped learning or as a backup tool if students or teachers are on extended sick leave.
- Arrange for non-teaching staff to cover extra-curricular and yard-duty responsibilities.
- Trial innovative timetable models. There are plenty of examples of systems that have less face-to-face teaching time and higher performance. In Finland, students start school days later and finish earlier. They usually have 3-4 x 75-minute classes with 15-20 minute breaks to digest learning, use muscles, stretch legs, get fresh air and let out the “wiggles.”
If you have leadership responsibility in 2022, it is hard to overstate the depth of the disruption we are facing. We are witnessing the end of the “command and control” structures that have dominated management since the Industrial Revolution. Teachers should be treated like adult professionals who can manage their own lives and time. This system cannot come at a cost to students; but if we don’t figure out how to do it, the cost may be the teaching profession as we know it. Fundamental transformation of the entire one-size-fits-all schooling model is needed to build a more potent and fulfilled profession – one in which educators are empowered as design thinkers. If we want people in classrooms teaching kids, let’s press the pedal on creative possibilities, pull the reins back on the crushing bureaucracy, and trust and support teachers to be the outstanding professionals that they are.