Teacher wellness: On the decline?

Want to know what I’ve been wondering about lately? I want to know if teacher health/wellness is declining amidst the pressure of educational reform today. A few days ago, I was walking behind a colleague and noticed that this person had gained some weight. It was nothing major–just something I observed. The observation prompted personal reflection. I thought about the changes in my own health and wellness over the past few years: the smaller clothes (now at the back of the closet), the infrequent trips to the gym, the lack of sleep, the quick meals on my way home when I’m wiped out, and the rare opportunities to actually EAT during my “lunch break” (a.k.a. more work time)! Being a teacher today is CHAOTIC! Though some of my colleagues sweat out their stress at the gym regularly, I am experiencing waning commitment to healthy outlets for releasing stress. This week, I’ve been wondering: Is it harder for teachers to find time for health and wellness given the many aspects of their jobs today?

My gut tells me: YES. I think the educational climate of “reform,” accountability, and the multi-faceted nature of the job keep educators busy long before and after the school bells. Finding balance is incredibly challenging in education today because there is a lot to do! Some SfS bloggers have offered great examples in recent posts below. I see it in my own practice, too. Every time I turn around, there seems to be a new initiative to connect with families, another way to track/report student progress, a new committee/club looking for teacher volunteers, another meeting to attend, a new form to fill out, another grant to submit for classroom supplies, and more items on the staff meeting agenda afterschool. Is this the price of being a “teacher?” I only seem to think about my health and wellness when I get to a breaking point, like when I get really sick or find myself completely exhausted. Otherwise, it’s ‘boots on the ground’ go, go, go, go, GO! Teachers are world changers, and we don’t like to stop and think about ourselves. How does that affect our health when there are so many things to do as a teacher today?

To take this further, serving as a teacher-leader adds additional responsibilities. I believe that teacher-leadership is essential in the profession, but it takes a huge toll. Every time I turn around, there is another training to plan, another teacher with a (great!) question, or a new resource I’d like to create. Of course, these duties come on top of my commitment to being an excellent teacher for my students. Good teachers who are also teacher-leaders are BUSY! Is this the price of “teacher leadership?” I can’t possibly count the Red Bulls that have kept me going with energy and enthusiasm despite very little sleep. But I’ll stop there with this one. Teacher leadership is worth it.

How does all of this affect the health and wellness of teachers? In a profession with high levels of attrition, could teachers be leaving because the stress/wellness issues are overwhelming with limited time for improvement? Additionally, declining health and wellness would be a serious concern for school districts that are self-insured. This past year, I heard about a local school district that increased employee healthcare contributions (what teachers pay to the district) by $700! A representative from that district said, “Employees need to get healthier to keep the cost down.” Talk about a double-edged sword. This profession requires more hours than other fields of work. Worse yet, many other fields have accepted long hours as common practice in the American workplace. I’d like to go on the record here: I don’t think that long work hours are good for health and wellness at all.

So what does the research say? I checked out keywords including: teacher, declining, health, and wellness in various combinations using Google News and Google Scholar. Unfortunately, there was nothing specific to teachers and their health/wellness. So does this mean that teacher health and wellness is not declining? Or does it mean that no one is asking questions or studying this topic? Sorry to say: I don’t have the answers there. But I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you think that teacher health and wellness are declining in education today? What other research/news do you think relates to this topic?

When you’re ready to share your thoughts, come and find me. I hope I’ll be at the gym.

2 thoughts on “Teacher wellness: On the decline?

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  1. This topic hits home for many teachers old and new. Discussing your entry today with colleagues, I was amazed to hear their own struggles to stay ahead in their professional lives and the decline in their personal health. To much sadness, I was right there with them in this decline and had little to nothing to say except for this can be done…right? There has to be a way to balance it all and live a fulfilled life to ensure those around you get the best version of yourself they could possibly get. The health of those in this profession would say “YES” health in teachers are declining, but I would also argue that with the limited amount of pay teachers receive the budget limits the healthy food choices for larger families. Could our profession be that close to poverty? Employing a healthy life style means including your school in these choices as well. Cake in the teachers lounge once a month or cupcakes pouring into your classroom for example is not helping anyone! Thank goodness for the new health standards for what can be brought to schools. A quick guide I’ve found to be helpful in the business of it all is:
    1. Incorporate Healthy Foods in Your Day and actually take a lunch break
    2. Get Plenty of Rest and sleep in 20 minutes extra on Wednesdays (It does work!!!)
    3. Exercise at your own pace at least 3 times a week
    4. Avoid negative, gossipy, or miserable teachers and staff
    Some days I get it right and others it is epic fail. What can be done to help make healthy choices a part of each day vs. once in a while? Thoughts?

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    1. Wow, Jeannie! You bring up such an interesting point about the financial issues related to teaching. I think this is certainly a factor to consider. I have noticed that many teachers eat lunch from the school cafeteria (which hopefully, is getting healthier). One thing I learned right away student teaching: Don’t ever eat lunch from the school cafeteria! I think that I gained about 10 pounds during my student teaching. Of course, the late nights and the teacher dessert (so yummy Mesa Public Schools) probably didn’t help. I often warn new teachers to be cautious about the calories in school lunches, but the inexpensive price makes it hard to resist. Like you, I am glad that the new health codes decrease the amount of birthday sweets on campus. It’s hard to say “no” even when it’s the best decision for your health. Great conversation! Thanks for the insight and wonderful tips!

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