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Students, teachers and the pressure to achieve: Have we got it back-to-front?

When it comes to educating our kids, have we got it back-to-front? In our focus to improve outcomes in schools we have seen an increase in the pressure placed on teachers within the system to achieve results.

While it absolutely makes sense to want to improve our standards and outcomes in education, we need to stop and ask –

Is this what our current approach is actually achieving?

We need to realistically look at the practical implications these pressures have on day-to-day life in the classroom, and what our teachers and students are experiencing as a result of this increased pressure.

In working with many different teachers across many different types of schools (public, private, remote, regional, urban, primary, secondary), we are seeing concerning situations occur as a result of this pressure to perform.

Teachers are feeling a constant pressure to get students to reach certain benchmarks that don’t necessarily match the way the student learns or take into account the time frame in which this learning occurs.

In this there is a constant tension for the teacher to get through the curriculum and show that students are achieving outcomes. Many teachers know that this approach does not necessarily connect with how the student needs to learn or explore at that point in time. The teacher may feel that a child needs more time to really understand new content, but with the current pressures there often isn’t the space or time to adequately do this.

This sees many kids being left behind, not being able to keep up, feeling frustrated and giving up on learning. This situation in turn can create behavioural issues in the classroom.

Consider what it would be like trying to learn in this environment:

  • With a teacher stressed and pressed to get through content, the level of anxiety generated would be felt by the students and also impacts on the learning environment.
  • This is not conducive to creating an environment where the child is really able to listen, receive and interpret information – to learn.

Children, who already have their own levels of stress, are also feeling the stress the teachers are under. How does this then play out in the classroom?

  • Some students put their heads down and try to get by as best they can. They don’t want to disturb anyone and can often go unnoticed, not really having their learning needs addressed.
  • Some students blow up under the pressure – they may go into anxiety or into disruptive behaviours to avoid doing tasks that lack meaning to them and with which they may be struggling.
  • With the rise in behavioural issues the teacher becomes more stressed and anxious and the atmosphere of the classroom intensifies.

Once the situation has reached this point it can then become about just finding ways to get through the day and deal with situations by finding the quick fixes rather than really addressing the issues that are present.

With the complexities of our current culture, pace of life and societal issues, teachers are already being asked to deal with much more in twenty-first century classrooms – on top of achieving results. We are seeing a multitude of societal breakdowns – family dysfunction as well as a lack of boundaries, security, care and connection in our modern day communities. There is no greater evidence of this than when we look at the wellbeing of our children and the complexity of issues children are facing, or presenting with, today.

Many schools and teachers are by default filling the role of supporting families and parents with a whole range of situations for which they have not been trained.

While the demands and pressures on teachers have increased, we have not yet matched this with providing increased support for teachers. Maybe this is where we need to start.

  • When we offer support to teachers we can set them up to be in a position to be able to support the needs of the students.
  • When teachers are less stressed they are better placed to be able to handle the demands of the classroom and present curriculum in a way that responds to and meets the learning needs of the students.
  • When students feel supported and are less stressed or anxious they are in a better place to be open to learning.

Putting people first is essential if we want to create the best outcomes for students, teachers and families, addressing circumstances that create pressure and stress, and fostering an environment for true learning.

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AnxietyTeachersBehaviourEducation

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    By Kristy Wood, B.A. Education