The Largest Source of Teacher Stress? Students

Although things like paperwork, homework grading and the rapidly changing academic landscape combine to make teaching one of the most stressful jobs, some teachers are saying that their main source of stress are the students themselves. Debbie Fite, a sixth-grade teacher at Three Oaks Middle School in San Carlos Park, who has been standing in front of classrooms for more than 17 years, says that when she goes home at night she worries less about what kind of an impact the latest education reform proposal will have on her job and more about problems facing this or that student in her class.

Fite says that she particularly worries about the student performance on standardized exams, which now has a significant bearing on her own career.

“I feel it’s a reflection on me,” said Fite. “I can only do so much in the time I see them and I can’t control what goes on outside my door. I can’t control if their parents encourage them or value them. I can’t control if there is fighting in the home. Or if their parents don’t care what time they go to bed. But when I have them for 83 minutes, that’s my only time and I can’t get everything done in the classroom.”

Some teachers in Fite’s district blame their increasing levels of stress on the new evaluation system currently being developed jointly by the Lee County School District and the teachers union that will count standardized test results and other objective student performance metrics for 50% of the overall teacher rating. Julie Smith, who teaches mathematics to 5th-graders in Pinewoods Elementary School, says that she is worried that once the new assessment system is deployed, her evaluation scores will be even further out of her control. Teacher quality is only a part of what determines if a student will be successful or not, she explains, so her pay — and her career — could depend on factors outside of her sphere of responsibility.

“One thing that is stressful is dealing with the kids themselves,” said Mike Nowlin, a former high school math teacher. “As far as them not having a good work ethic, lack of personal responsibility and being able to take care of simple things on their own.”

Before teachers can get to helping students understand the material with a textbook, they have to convince the student to bring the book to class, said Nowlin, who returned to teaching in 2010 for a year and a half at South Fort Myers High before leaving last school year over Christmas break for a new job.

Nowlin added that no amount of instructional skill can improve outcomes for students who aren’t willing to do their part. Even a top-notch teacher in front of the classroom will not make a difference to kids who refuse to do homework, don’t pay attention, and treat lessons as an opportunity to socialize with their peers.

08 10, 2012
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