“Significant work related stress may take 2 months leave of absence” the letter said. I never would’ve thought this type of letter would apply to me, but its my letter from my doctor to give to my school.
I’ve been teaching high school students almost thirty years and still love teaching. I’ve chosen to teach high school students who are at-risk academically for most of my career because I felt I could make the most difference teaching academically at-risk students. When my students ask me from time to time, why I teach high school instead of university, I always tell them I teach high school because I love teaching teenagers. So what happened? Why did I crash and burn that Tuesday after school?
Why did I crash and burn? I think the following contributed to my burnout:
- students’ disruptive behaviour in class;
- students’ verbal abuse and threats of cyberbullying;
- students’ considerable, constant emotional demands;
- students’ special needs and the expectation to differentiate teaching and assessing and evaluating students’ work;
- heterogeneity in abilities of my students;
- conflicting demands made by my students, parents, and administration;
- ever increasing paper work, reports, and report card comments ;
- new discipline policy for students regarding lates, incomplete or unsubmitted assignments that some students think the new policies absolve them of the responsibility they have for their own learning.
Now, of course I know I also contributed to my burnout. I’m just a teeny weeny bit type A personality. I worked hard to do my best and try to motivate my students to do their best, but despite my best efforts I couldn’t motivate many of my students to take more responsibility for their own learning. In desperation, I tried to ignore these troublesome, troubles and troubling students, but I couldn’t. I felt it my job to get them to do their best, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I ignored them. When I called home for support, many of the parents were not surprised by their kid’s behaviours and tried to be supportive but most said they didn’t know what to do. Sometimes when I called parents, some parents didn’t return any of my phone calls. I learned to call cellphones and not leave a message at home because the kids would just erase my message before their parents got a chance to hear the message.
Anthony (not his real name) , one of my students, skipped almost a third of my classes, repeatedly came late to class, and didn’t submit most of his work. When I talked to Anthony about all this, he asked “What is your problem?”. My problem I thought?
Another one of my students, Darren (not his real name) told me repeatedly he hated my classes and that I wasn’t any fun. I was giving the class too much work. I should be more like his teacher last year and let the class watch movies on Fridays- in a math class?
Tom (not his real name) another student in my class had a hair trigger temper and would throw things around class. Students were afraid of him; I was afraid of him. You just never knew what would set him off. He asked me one day as he came into the classroom, what I would do if he refused to go to the office when I asked him to go to the office. I told him I wasn’t even going to consider that question because I didn’t expect to have ask him to go to the office. I really try hard to start each day with a fresh slate. So, what happened yesterday does not affect today. I don’t usually send students to the office. I try to deal with any issues myself in class. But on rare occasions, I feel I have to send students to the office. Later in class that day, Tom chose to behave inappropriately, and I asked him to go to the office. He refused. Two behaviour support teaching assistants came to escort him to the office , he wouldn’t go either. He refused despite everything. Then five minutes before class was over, he announced, “Now I am going”. The learning environment was totally destroyed in that class and in future classes. Students were either waiting to see what Tom was going to do and couldn’t focus on their work, or after an incident they were afraid and couldn’t focus on their work or they talked about the incident after it happened and couldn’t focus on school work. I admit, I had a difficult time myself focusing.
Another student, I’ll call her Jenny, would skip classes, come late to class or sneak out of class when I was helping another student. One day I noticed Jenny was out of class and went into the hall to see if she was there. I saw her and told her to come back to class. Jenny just laughed and ran down the hall laughing more loudly as she opened the door and ran down stairs. I called home and left a message on her parent’s cell phone , but never heard back from the parent.
Other students have come to class high on some substance or another and have destroyed the learning environment as I dealt with the situation.
These are just some of the things that happened this semester in class. I don’t want to discuss any more hings that happened in class because I find it too upsetting.
I’m just thinking how much teaching has changed over the years. I’m surprised I still like teaching, but right now I can’t even think about teaching. That’s so sad. I’ve been teaching for so many years and have loved it. I’m a life long learner myself and keep on top of things by doing my own research on how to improve my teaching practice. I’ve had students who were at-risk academically and have graduated from high school come back and tell me how much I helped them while they were in school. I’ve even had students who didn’t graduate from high school tell me how much they appreciated what I tried to do for them. And, now all I can do is cry when I think about it all.
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