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Who needs a break? (Probably not the students)

posted Jun 4, 2013, 8:11 PM by nlaskowski@sjusd.org   [ updated Jun 4, 2013, 8:22 PM ]
"Working Late," Alan Cleaver, 2008Around this time of year, we all start hearing the same refrain:  "We need a break!"  Adults at school sites frequently discuss how ready the students are for summer vacation, complaining about "spring fever" behavior.  Who is it who really needs the break - students, or teachers?  
Much has been written connecting teacher burnout with student behavior, but I wonder how much the former may cause the latter.  I notice that students get stressed out, anxious, or just-plain goofy when teachers feel the same.  

Teachers work our tails off, regularly pushing days that run from 10 to over 12 hours with meetings, lesson planning, grading, materials production, contacting parents, bureaucratic tasks, and research - not to mention instruction.  Whenever we've been working for five to six weeks straight, my colleagues and I start showing signs of burnout:  the droopy eyes, less-dressy outfits, late-morning arrivals, and reduced patience for student misbehavior.  

At the moment I don't have hard research or data to support my hypothesis, but I wonder, does teacher stress and workload cause late-term student anxiety and misbehavior?  For as many teachers have told me that students don't take the final days of school seriously, how many classes show videos or hold "parties" in the final week?  For as many times as I've expressed disappointment about my students' behavior in the final months of school, how short has my temper become as the end-of-term crunch time approaches?  

Of course, nothing ever completely causes anything to happen - the world is full of those delightfully complicating factors we call life.  Still, how much improvement could we bring to our classrooms if we could manage teacher stress and prevent burnout?  It's a question worthy of experiment.  

Image courtesy of Alan Cleaver