It’s not that teaching’s ever been an easy job. My own grandmother found it pretty daunting when, at the tender age of 18 and after just one year of “normal school,” she found herself in front of a class of kids ranging from age six to 15, in eight grades. Her responsibilities at the little rural school included firing up the woodstove every morning and cleaning the outdoor privy.
But today’s educators face a complexity of expectations, regulations and student needs beyond what past generations could have imagined. So many of them speak with frustration of feeling spread too thin to do their job the way they’d like to; of being unable to properly follow all the individual learning plans in their class because the resources or staffing aren’t there; of feeling constantly bombarded with new demands just as they are getting on top of the previous ones. The reality of teacher stress is reflected in the headlines: “Sick days costing Ontario school boards $1 billion a year.” “Teacher stress is killing my profession.” “Overwhelmed Canadian teachers may be quitting in droves.”
In this issue, we examine what can be done to support the well-being of all educators and reduce their levels of stress, role overload, and exhaustion. Sue Roffey discusses how a “whole school” approach to well-being benefits everyone and pays off in a healthier school culture (Creative Caring for Teachers). Sarah Pruys and Curtis Brown share a Northwest Territories initiative that aims to improve both teacher well-being and quality of teaching (Strengthening Teacher Instructional Practices in the N.W.T.), while Susan Rodger and her colleagues present a new resource for supporting teachers’ mental health literacy (Teach Resiliency). We haven’t forgotten the particular stresses affecting principals, from specific support strategies to boost their well-being (Healthy Principals, Healthy Schools) to a new study that reveals the extra stress load caused by the demands of email (a web exclusive, www.edcan.ca/magazine).
Many of our contributors make the very good point that the mental health of educators has a direct impact on the well-being of the students in their care; and that therefore we should support teachers’ well-being in order to ensure they are able to bring their best to their students. And that’s true, of course. But as I worked through the issue, the argument began to bother me. If employees in a profession – any profession – are suffering high levels of stress and stress-related illness, then that’s a problem. Mental health is a part of occupational health and safety, and we shouldn’t need to argue harm to students or the cost of sick leave to justify addressing it. Our educators’ emotional well-being matters, period. Let’s give it the attention it deserves.
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Photo: Dave Donald
Cover photo: Iakow Kalinin (iStock)
First published in Education Canada, September 2017