Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Is Teaching Sustainable?

Author: Francesca Fuoco

During the course of my practicum as a novice teacher, I have met professionals in the field who have been teaching for over 40 years. I find it incredible how some individuals can sustain the same career for decades. What is it about a career that makes it sustainable for so many years? There are many possible definitions for sustainability but for the purpose of this post, I believe that sustainability in the teaching profession requires first a passion for teaching, and second, a balanced work/home lifestyle. If the career path negatively impacts the individual’s well-being, then I would argue that the career path is not sustainable in the long-term.

During my undergraduate studies to become a Science teacher, I took a course on the policies and laws governing the teaching profession in Quebec. On the first day of class, we were told by the professor that 50% of all new teachers drop out of the profession in their first 5 years of teaching. When I first heard this, I did not agree and thought that percentage was way too high and that it did not apply to me in any case because I knew teaching was my calling. Today I now know that my teacher was trying to warn us about the adventure we were about to embark on.
It is a common conception that teachers have the perfect work schedule, with early evenings, Christmas break and peddays at home, and summers off. I used to tell all my friends that the field of teaching is fantastic if you want a family oriented lifestyle, where you have the same schedule as your children and can be around with your family while working a full-time job. Today, I state with confidence that teaching is by far one of the most demanding jobs and the conception of the perfect work schedule is a false dream.

First, to obtain a teaching licence in Quebec, a Bachelors degree is required (or a Masters), which is at least 4 years of University studies. Once you obtain your teaching certificate, you then need to try and find a teaching contract, which are currently very difficult to find. As such, you result to being a substitute teacher for a few years until you find a contract, or if you are lucky, you can find earlier on a 50-70% contract (part-time work load). At this stage in your early career, you are basically hoping a teacher is going to retire, go on sick leave, or go on maternity leave.

Once you do sign a teaching contract, which may or may not be in your field of study, your workload goes above and beyond teaching content to a classroom of students. Apart from teaching your courses, teachers participate in extra-curricular activities which are commonly scheduled after school. Teachers also need to plan their lessons and generate teaching materials which is often done during the evenings at home. They provide remedial help to students during the lunch hour on some days and on the other days they need to supervise the hallways. Teachers need to attend professional development workshops to ensure they stay up-to-date with the most current resources and teaching techniques. Teachers also need to consider each student’s learning style by adapting their teaching methods to accommodate each learner. This part of the job is taken to the next level when Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) need to be considered in which certain students have a legal right to certain accommodations and modifications in the classroom. The biggest component of this job which I think is what affects most teachers’ well-being is the classroom management. I have worked in classrooms which had 7 students and others which had 34 students. Regardless of the numbers, each classroom size comes with its challenges when dealing with children. The teacher is the role model of the classroom and students look up to you and I think this is why the teacher’s emotions can be tugged in all directions. At the end of the day, a teacher does not simply teach. Teachers are also listeners, motivators, leaders, and carers. They play the role of psychologist, doctor, lawyer, and police officer, which is why robots will never put a teacher out of work.

A high school teacher can see on average 100 students in their classroom every day. It can be easy to take home the events that happened in class and it is at this point that the career can impact the teacher’s well-being. During each of my internships, the most honest advice that I received from each of my supervising teachers was to take care of myself first and to not bring the work home. It is OK to have a bad day and to bring your B game to class, teachers cannot always bring their A game. To make it in this career, teachers need to balance what happens in school and what happens outside of school. Exercise, eating-well, and letting go of the day’s events is key to being a sustainable teacher.

You have to love teaching to choose this career. I would like to reiterate that teaching is by far one of the most demanding jobs, but it is also one of the most rewarding careers. Despite the emotional tug-of-war and classroom management horror stories, teachers teach skills that last a life time. Teachers inspire children to learn, to question, and to achieve. There is no better feeling than when you see your students’ eyes light up when they “click” and understand something and say “Oh! I get it!”. That is when I remember why teaching is an amazing career.

Picture taken by Francesca Fuoco at Ste-Agathe Academy, Ste-Agathe Quebec.

Francesca Fuoco is a 4th year undergraduate student in the Faculty of Education at McGill University. She is currently studying with the goal of teaching Science at the High School level. Francesca is interested in promoting the development of scientific literacy skills among her students by engaging them in learning activities which aim to study how Science affects our society and vice-versa.

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