American teachers, I recently discovered, report the most weekly hours of classroom instruction compared to their international counterparts—and given the lack of time during the school day for other essential things such as planning, assessing and collaboration, I assumed that the primary reason behind the high level of teacher stress was almost entirely time-related. But the more I looked into this question of why so many American teachers report high levels of stress, the clearer it seemed that an exceptionally full teaching schedule worked in tandem with another factor: an abundance of professional demands.
Last year, more than 30,000 teachers completed an online 80-question survey created by the American Federation of Teachers and Badass Teachers Association. The results showed, as covered by The Washington Post, that the majority of teachers reported high levels of stress and were “particularly anxious about having to carry out a steady stream of new initiatives—such as implementing curricula and testing related to the Common Core State Standards—without being given adequate training.”
“We ask teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and, I’m dating myself here, Tony Soprano,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told The Washington Post, which emphasized that the survey’s findings weren’t scientific. “We ask them to be Mom and Dad and impart tough love but also be a shoulder to lean on. And when they don’t do these things, we blame them for not being saviors of the world. What is the effect? The effect has been teachers are incredibly stressed out.”
Recently, a 25-year veteran U.S. teacher told Colorado Public Radio (CPR) he left the profession because he couldn’t handle a mountain of paperwork, related to expectations to document backward-designed lesson plans. "Everything's very time-consuming. In my mind, it's not productive time," he told CPR.
“The district and national backers of this methodical planning,” reported Jenny Brundin of CPR, “say it creates the highest-quality classrooms, freeing teachers to teach what they want while giving them better-structured lessons and activities that push kids to think at a higher level and lead their own learning.” According to Brundin, the veteran teacher thinks this initiative started to drain him physically and mentally, and limited his creativity.
For many American educators, the current teaching arrangement appears somewhat grim: Schools expect a lot out of their teachers, without providing them with sufficient training and time during the school day to carry out their many roles and responsibilities.
A recent report (“A Coming Crisis in Teaching?”) by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) investigated the teacher shortage that affects many class subjects and parts of the country, and found that “the most important driving factor of teacher shortages is high teacher attrition.” In fact, America’s teacher-attrition rates have remained around 8 percent since 2005, and they are, according to the report, nearly twice as much as they are in several high-performing countries, such as Singapore and Finland.