Tired Teachers

tired teachers teacher sleeping on desk

Tired teachers? Why do those words go together so frequently?

At one point when I taught full-time, I fell asleep with my head on my desk. It was the end of the day so no students saw me conked out. My coworkers? They never forgot it. They poked fun at me years later.

But they understood.

Teaching tires people! The walking, constant thinking, engaging with numerous people, worrying, providing diversified feedback, remembering, applying, completing paperwork, recalling content. . . teachers juggle these processes in front of twenty (thirty?) impressionable people. Tired teachers are part of education; should they be?

do tired teachers need to be part of education?

I teach part-time today, but I’m still wiped after teaching a three-hour class. Returning from class last night, I Googled teachers and sleep deprivation with a variety of hits. I found researched acknowledgement of the problem. Sleep deprived teachers may put students in danger, but I didn’t find much advice that got at the issue’s root. Other research pointed out that sleep deprived teachers are a financial strain. A promising article, written by a neurologist, reminds teachers of what we preach to student: your body needs sleep.

Teachers live sleep deprivation and acknowledging the problem is a good step. What would rested teachers look like put into practice? Some standard American ways may change, but a few considerations could include:

Teachers not working part-time jobs.

I’m not referring to bar tending, but rather staying three hours after school for baseball or speech practice. Would community leaders volunteer? be paid? What would it look like if teachers went home after working a full day, and others contributed to the community’s youth? It might take research and few rough drafts to get this right, but teachers can’t rest if they work for twelve hours and then go home to personal responsibilities, or papers to grade.

Plus, teachers are exhausted, and many work so many hours that they jeopardize their health. Have a work-life balance would benefit teachers and in turn, benefit students.

Teachers having additional prep time.

The juggle of creating material, planning lessons, submitting paperwork, staying current with research… teaching is more than a full-time job. To keep students engaged, teachers need to prep. It is physically unfair to teachers to expect what society and the government expects and still provide only a tiny fraction of the day for preparation. Even an additional hour on Friday would help.

The overall stress on teachers, the factor of being “on” and watched by so many people of course makes for tired teachers. More organizational time would allow for better teaching practices.

Schools hiring other professionals—like therapists.

As part-time jobs are highly sought, I wonder if professionals would seek 10 or 20 hours at a school working with students. Teachers love helping students and students trust teachers with their secrets, but oftentimes, students’ problems are past a teacher’s expertise. Teachers know they don’t have the training for these issues so they worry about the student not getting proper counseling.

These would be big changes—a coach would maybe no longer be the math teacher too. And yep, I expect to get comments that I’m living in a dreamland, that tradition can’t change and that schools don’t have money. I do know that teachers affect people in vast ways. The monetary aspect may not weigh that much. I am interested to know what teacher turnover costs school districts, and the potential benefit for students in utilizing other professionals.

I question what the disregard for teachers’ health shows students. The complaint from teachers that students don’t respect them may disappear if students witness other adults in similar capacities, if familiar faces contribute in their educational setting.

Finally, as the teaching profession changes, as scientists learn about the brain function and what students need for safe and quality learning, more is expected from teachers. Most teachers are willing to step up and provide that: to implement current practice. Most are too tired and overworked to succeed at it though. I know years ago, I was. Everyone was. Tired teachers surrounded me.

When I resigned from a full-time teaching position, I was sad. “I love teaching,” I told my department chair, “but I can’t function.” She nodded. “It really is how your body handles a lack of sleep.”

She was right, which sadly reflects how a veteran of the public school system sees teaching: sleep deprivation is simply part of the job.

Why do you think tired teachers are part of the profession?

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  • Arlene

    My sentiments exactly. The problem, as always, is how schools and teachers are funded. We say, “The children are our future.” But, professions connected with children (teachers, social workers, daycare, etc.) provoke the highest of expectations and wrath for some of the lowest income in the U.S., no job security, annually reduced benefits, and piling on of more work every year by districts and administrators! Teaching is losing it’s professionalism; it is becoming a J.O.B., with a revolving door–not a career. Until politicians and citizens, alike, come to understand and correct this catastrophe, public education will continue to fail our most precious future.

    • [email protected] (author)

      It is the entire set of professions – good point. The expectations and the workload don’t align with the payments. Teachers work long hours, even if they were paid adequately. Since they’re not, they work extra jobs and can’t hire out for personal care they way other professionals who work 60+ hours a week can. It’s more than unfortunate.

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