Why more teacher work won’t yield better outcomes

When was the last time you drove away from the school gates and didn’t think once about your work, class or colleagues?  What about the last time you left school before 4.00pm? Or didn’t take work home?  Or felt like your to-do list was totally manageable? For most teachers and school leaders, answering “yes” to […]

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When was the last time you drove away from the school gates and didn’t think once about your work, class or colleagues? 

What about the last time you left school before 4.00pm? Or didn’t take work home?  Or felt like your to-do list was totally manageable?

For most teachers and school leaders, answering “yes” to even one of those questions is a stretch. 

Stress has become a completely normal part of our working lives. And since work/life balance barely exists nowadays, that stress is rapidly seeping into our personal lives too.

According to this article, over half of Australian teachers suffer from anxiety and almost one-fifth are depressed. That’s higher than the national averages which show that over their lifetime, approximately 10% of Australians experience depression and 13% experience anxiety. 

But it’s not just teachers. School leaders are feeling it too.

Data shows that principals experience stress at levels 1.7 times higher than the general population, and burnout 1.6 times higher. 

The same survey also showed that in all negative measures of wellbeing, school leaders scored higher than the general population. These included sleeping troubles (2.2 times higher), depressive symptoms (1.3 times higher) and even somatic stress symptoms (1.3 times higher), which are physical and can include pain, nausea, dizziness and fainting.

These are extremely worrying statistics. It’s no wonder 40% of graduates quit teaching within their first five years of work. 

Why are we so stressed?

It’s not just data telling us that teachers are stressed. Anyone who knows a teacher can see it. And there’s many reasons why. 

Studies have shown that  55.3% of full-time teachers in Victoria and 45.9% in NSW spent more than 41 hours at work each week. But more hours were also completed at home with 20.5% of Victorian and 26.7% of NSW teachers stating that they also performed more than 11 hours of work per week at home.

Limited time and non-stop work demands are two of the biggest stressors for teachers, with 92% expressing concern that they simply don’t have enough time for lesson planning, marking, report writing and administrative tasks. 

In ACER’s School Staff Workload Study, a third of primary teachers reported they were unable to meet the demands of quality teaching, including the selection of appropriate learning resources and meeting the diverse learning needs and motivations of their students.

It’s no wonder they feel this way. A report released earlier this year by the OECD showed that teacher workload had increased significantly since 2013. In fact, Australia had one of the largest increases of OECD.

53% of school leaders worked upwards of 56 hours per week, with 27% working more than 61-65 hours. These hours are far too high to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

Workloads and job demands keep increasing in schools, but the number of hours in a day… well, that’s remained the same.

You don’t have to be a maths teacher to know that the equation just doesn’t add up. How can we expect more work and better results, with the same amount of time and often, the same resources?

What is taking up teacher time? 

We really can’t expect better student outcomes with stressed out teachers. In fact, we can see that this approach hasn’t been working well so far. 

Teacher and principal wellbeing is directly linked to teaching performance and student academic outcomes. At the same as teacher and school leader stress is peaking in Australia, standardised student test results are falling across the country, particularly in maths. 

We seem to be trapped in a cycle that’s quite literally sucking teachers in and spitting them out.

More work does not equal better outcomes. But every time negative test results hit the headlines, even more is piled on.

Generally that work isn’t focused on pedagogy or teacher practice either. It’s administration. 

The average workweek for a primary teacher was 43.7 hours, of these 23.6 hours are spent face-to-face teaching. Outside of actual teaching, 3.3 hours are spent on marking and correcting student work, 2 on  participation in school management , 3.4 hours on general administrative work and 1.1 hours on extracurricular activities.

On average in Australia, and generally across the OECD, primary principals spend more than half of their time dealing with administrative tasks (about 33% of their time) and leadership tasks and meetings (almost 21% of their time for primary principals  Primary principals also spend a larger proportion of their time on curriculum and teaching-related tasks and meetings (15% compared to 11% for lower secondary) and student interactions (15% compared to 12% for lower secondary).

Over the last 5 years, school time spent teaching has fallen in Australia and time spent on administration has increased. It’s now 33% higher than the OECD average. That’s a lot of paperwork.

Can we reduce teacher stress and support positive student outcomes?

Most teachers got into the profession because they wanted to make a difference with the students they would work with.

They started out their careers determined to improve the outcomes of every student. And often, that meant putting in heroic efforts to try to do it.  Putting extra time into differentiating student learning, while feeling pressure to move students through the curriculum regardless of their readiness. Add that to all the administration work mentioned earlier and, well, you can see that teachers are trying to do the impossible. 

They’re committed to working with students to achieve positive outcomes, but they often don’t have the time or the support to do this effectively.

We need to consider solutions that allow teachers to do more in the time they have. To help them meet the needs of their students, without increasing manual processes. 

This is one of the reasons that schools across Australia are implementing Early Insights — to support teachers with an assessment tool that automates parts of the students-teacher interview process and enables real time data collection in an efficient way. 

The tool leverages technology to deliver diagnostics and ongoing formative assessments, providing teachers with live, actionable data that can be used to deliver the content that each student is ready to learn.

For teachers, that means detailed student data is readily available and can be quickly updated in dashboards to determine student gaps and competencies, group students with similar needs and see progress overtime. It also allows them more time working with students one-on-one.

For students, there’s no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. Each student learns what they’re ready to learn regardless of their age or year level.

Knowing that you have uptodate data on your class means that the time you spend on planning your lesson will not go to waste as it will meet student needs. With time, students also become more engaged in their maths learning. In fact, personalised learning can have dramatic results on student progress

While there’s no magic bullet solution to completely eliminate teacher stress, there are tools, like Early Insights, that can provide positive support. And if more teachers are supported to deliver the differentiated learning they want to deliver, more students will engage and progress in maths and Australia might just see mathematical results turn around.

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Maths Pathway combines evidence-based practices in a holistic model that supports teachers to deliver differentiated teaching and achieve greater student growth in the classroom.

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