When a teacher has to work with up to one hundred or more students a day each with their own personalities, desires and problems stress will always rear its ugly head. This stress will be further exacerbated when those hundred or so students are teenagers. Teenagers are the most self-centred of all individuals.
There are many difficult issues that arise each day with teenage students that cause extra stress. They include:
• Motivation to learn. Often students must do subjects that they have no interest in or fail to see the relevance for them in life. Mathematics is one such subject when Algebra appears on the scene.
• Truancy. This is especially true of boys. When they return to class, the teacher has to take time providing them with extra teaching in an effort to help them catch up with the rest of the class.
• Last period. Two problems arise here. The first is tiredness. Teachers must plan an active lesson to keep the mind of the students on their learning. The second is the thought among students that school is almost done and they begin to switch off.
• Behaviour problems. There are all sorts of reasons for these. They impinge on a teacher’s concentration as they deliver a lesson and interrupt other students’ ability to absorb the lesson well.
• Post lunchtime. For boys particularly, lunchtime is a time to indulge in sporting type activities. They will come into class hot, sweaty and tired and often late meaning the teacher’s planning for the lesson is often compromised.
• Hot summer afternoon. These afternoons often have a sleepy effect on students making it difficult for them to concentrate effectively.
• Late arrivals. They disturb the continuity of the lesson and often require extra time from the teacher to learn about what has already been taught.
• Tiredness of students. In the senior school, this often comes from two factors. The first is related to after school work where some students work long hours often into the night. The second relates to assignment work. Many students have poor planning and organisational skills leaving many important assignments until the last minute forcing them to work into the “wee” hours of the morning to complete the assignment.
• Poor diet and fitness. A fit and well fed student concentrates more effectively and absorbs learning at a quicker rate than others.
• Last week of term. Students very quickly enter holiday mode even though new work is being taught.
• Post exam week. This week is important for the teacher to allow him/her to show students how they can improve their results when the exam papers are reviewed. But, for many students, the exams are over and they are no longer interested in what they did, just their results and whether or not they can obtain any more marks from the teacher. Some students are very aggressive doing this.
There are other issues that increase the stress on high school teachers. They include:
• Large practical classes where safety is an issue (e. g. Manual Arts classes) and where lack of equipment means students must share equipment. Students get angry because teachers can never guarantee equal access to equipment. The time wasted on trying to do that impinges on teaching time and the teacher’s ability to cover the allotted learning for the teaching term.
• Getting a class after they run riot in the previous lesson. It takes time and patience to settle the class down before effective teaching can begin. The previous class may have been with a relief teacher or subject students are forced to take, often in junior high school.
• Teaching subjects for which you are unqualified.
• Internal relief. High school teachers are given time for preparation and correction. Some teachers have more than the minimum specified. This extra time is used for internal relief with the teacher not knowing when it will be used in any one week. The internal relief often comes when the teacher has planned to do something urgent and/or important.
• Noisy classes beside your room at crucial teaching or assessment times.
• The role of “in loco parentis”. In today’s world, acting in this role, although part of the official role of a teacher within school hours, requires very careful consideration and record keeping of how, when and why the teacher has assumed that role.
• Preparing students for external “exams”.
• Requirements of University entry. This often requires students to select subjects which they find difficult or have little or no interest in, making motivation a factor in their classroom persona.
• Parents. Many are more demanding and protective of their teenagers, often siding with them against the teacher and school. They forget that, as teenagers, they never told their parents the full story. Then, when they confront the teacher at a parent/teacher meeting, they become, in the main, embarrassed when they hear the full details. Of course, there are those parents who believe their child can do no wrong because they are “angels” at home.
This is quite a list of issues that impinge on a high school teacher’s day at work. The list is, by no means, exhaustive. But, what is true of any teacher’s life is that their day in the classroom is never routine. Thus stress is something that is always present and it is important that the general public understands how stressful this career is. Teachers may have longer holidays than the average person but these holidays are filled initially with days needed to release the teacher from that stress and help the teacher return to a semblance of normality so that the holiday period can be enjoyed with the family.