Today the MSN homepage lists eight stressful jobs: retail salespeople, doctors and nurses, accountants, teachers, firefighters, farmers, automotive assembly workers, and stockbrokers. I assume if they had made it a list of ten they would have included airline pilots and talk show hosts.
I don’t think about the stresses of my job every day- I suppose because I enjoy it so much. But teaching definitely has some stress factors. Here are my top five:
1. Expectations. No matter what grade you teach, the expectations for success rise each year. Everyone wants children to be smarter, more creative, more motivated, and better behaved. The government expects miracles. Administration wants test scores to increase. Parents want little Johnnie to excel, and receive awards and accolades, regardless of the fact that Johnnie’s talents and capabilities are somewhat limited. I want my students to be the best on campus and I don’t want anything I might do or say, or not do or say, to hold them back.
2. Daily management- Each day a teacher is required to physically manage between ten and thirty children. That means keeping them in place, keeping them safe, keeping them motivated, and keeping them healthy. During any school day there are a hundred things that can interfere with the best of plans. Last week I had two children arrive very late and hungry so I let them eat breakfast in my room while the rest of us continued with our morning routine. Another child vomited during story time. That required taking care of her and getting her to the nurse, calming the other students, and calling for the custodian to clean my rug. Two boys got into an argument and one started crying. A parent dropped by unexpectedly to ask me about a previous problem. The office suddenly needed some paperwork I hadn’t completed. A boy knocked over a chair. Two children were absent so I had to set aside the plans I had for their afternoon tutoring to make up for the previous day they had missed. Getting the picture? Each week we make our plans for the next week. We will teach such and such. We will do this and that. But it doesn’t always go according to plan. In fact I would say that the days we have 100% attendance and motivation and everything goes as planned are few and far between. In reality we do the best we can each day.
3. Budget limitations- There are hundreds of new products and programs and books available each year that might help me teach just a little more efficiently or creatively. There are supplies that would save me time and effort. There are things that would make my room more exciting and fun. Many of these products and programs and books and supplies are things that neither I, nor my district, can afford. It is a fact of life that where you go to school matters. Some districts just don’t have the money that others have. I have one computer in my classroom. There are schools in our nation that have six computers per classroom and others that have none. Teachers have to make budget choices that are not only stressful, but sometimes heartbreaking.
4. Parents- Let’s face it, adults don’t always like each other and don’t always get along. However, for the sake of the students in my classroom, I must cooperate and collaborate with a wide variety of people. I must keep the needs of my students first and foremost in my mind in order to deal with temperaments and personalities of their parents and grandparents and step-parents. Any one student can have as many as six sets of adults interested in what we are doing in the classroom. And as you might guess, at least half of them are going to disagree about whether I am doing the right thing! And in case some of you are naïve, please note that drug dealers, pimps, self-proclaimed witches, ex-cons, gang members and thieves are very often parents of school children- parents that teachers have to work with for a whole year. Several years ago one of my parents was on the front page of the newspaper- not for winning a service award, but for killing someone.
5. Safety- Each year it seems that safety and security become bigger issues. Schools try their best to keep children safe. We have locks and alarms and fences. We have security guards. We have badges and passes. We have dress codes and metal detectors. We have drills and procedures for fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, bombs, and unwanted visitors. Yet each of us knows that in our society anything can happen. The greatest safety threat might come from a parent or colleague or student who is as familiar to us as our own family members.
So there you have it- some of the reasons why I think I have a stressful job. But you know that I can make a list of twenty reasons why I have the best job in the world and why I go to school each day with a smile on my face. I wouldn’t want any other job on the list!