Education Week - March 30, 2016 - (Page 20)

COMMENTARY A Principals, Get Your Irish On t last year's conference of the Irish Primary Principals' Network, in Dublin, I was surprised to find myself still awake at 3 a.m., as more than 300 of the 1,200 attendees socialized in the hotel lounge, drinking Guinness, chatting, laughing, singing, and enjoying themselves. At principals' conferences in the United States, I've never known anywhere near a quarter of the attendees to be up so late-or to sing. Clearly, Irish principals are different. Does this mean that they're happy and healthy? Alas, no. I had discovered this earlier that day when Australian researcher Philip Riley presented a survey on Irish principals' well-being. The survey collected responses from more than 800 principals and assistant principals. The grim results-which matched those of nearly 4,000 school leaders in Australia whom Riley had previously studied-cast into bold relief similar issues for their American counterparts. The Irish principals scored very low on all positive measures of well-being (health, happiness, mental health, coping, relationships, and self-worth), and very high on all negative measures (burnout, sleep troubles, depression, and stress). Roughly half work at least 56 hours per week; many average 66. During vacations, most work more than 25 hours per week. Compared to the general population, they experience much more frequent bullying, threats of violence, and actual violence. I was struck by how accurately most of Getty By Robert Evans this would fit American principals. But it got worse. To nods of recognition throughout the hall, Riley explained that these high stress levels would likely cause the principals to produce damagingly high amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which inhibits healthy sleep patterns and rapid recovery after a difficult day. Then he added, "Stress indicators this high are also associated with a shortened life span." Everything went quiet. Dead quiet. We were all stunned. I thought of all the gallows humor, the this-job-is-killing-me stories and jokes I hear in the sessions and hallways where American principals gather. Suddenly, these didn't seem like just hyperbole. I thought of the 2012 MetLife Foundation survey of U.S. principals, in which 75 percent of the respondents said the job had become too complex, and nearly 50 percent said they felt great stress. I also thought of my conversations with retired principals, most of whom say: My blood pressure's down; I'm sleeping better; I'm exercising more; I'm spending more time with my spouse. They sometimes miss school, especially the students, but there's much they don't miss, and their well-being has improved. When they look back, many say that, over their careers, the major change in education-or more precisely, the major consequence of changes in education-was the declining quality of their lives. For both the Irish and the Australian principals in Riley's surveys, just as for their American peers, the key stressor is "the sheer quantity of work, closely followed by a lack of time to focus on teaching and learning." (Only 42 percent of U.S. principals told MetLife they had significant influence over curriculum and instruction.) In his address at the 2014 conference, Seán Cottrell, the CEO of the Irish Primary Principals' Network, bluntly identified "the initiative fatigue that is draining morale from teachers and principals" as the biggest threat to educational quality. "If a principal treated staff in this way," he added, "it could justifiably be called bullying." Ireland's economy and its schools' budgets have been hit harder than ours. But for far too many U.S. principals, things are bleak. Initiative fatigue is ubiquitous. Even assuming good intentions on the part of the critics, policymakers, and politicians who have subjected our schools to relentless increases in expectations, regulation, and testing, the effect of these pressures- accompanied, as they are, by blame and threat-does verge on bullying. No wonder so many principals have been retiring early; no wonder the applicant pools for their positions are dwindling. Here's a questionnaire I now ask audiences of principals. Score yourself from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree): 1. I generally sleep soundly. 2. I spend enough time with family and friends. 3. I'm not worried about my health. Why Good Teachers Don't Have to 'Like' Teaching I By Patrick O'Connor " I may not like my brain turning into a papier-mâché pulp after teaching, but I feel satisfied when I teach well." Getty have a confession: I really don't like teaching. Each September, when I hear that eager teacher say she can't wait to get back in the classroom, I look at her with a little bit of suspicion. Even when my class conversations are on point and I am at the top of my pedagogical game, at the end of the day I trudge back to my car, throw my backpack on top of a crumbling hill of paper coffee cups, drop into the driver's seat, and deflate. 20 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 30, 2016 | As a high school English teacher, I feel a little ashamed about how teaching batters me. Maybe it's because I haven't figured out how to manage the daily grind of keeping 14- to 18-year-olds on task for hour-and-ahalf blocks. Why do I sometimes dread the moment my students enter my classroom? Why does my stomach clench up on Sunday night? Why don't students energize me as they do the eager teacher? Seven years ago, I started teaching after a career as a newspaper reporter. Before that, I was a college student and a carpenter. My past jobs yielded a different type of weariness, but one satisfied by an end product. A carpenter has tiled bathrooms. A student receives grades. A reporter has the front-page story. A teacher has summer; everything else relies on faith. Each lesson I teach is a tiny link in a lifelong chain of learning for students. It's difficult to know what role, if any, my link plays. I have to trust I am "making" something-perhaps a difference-but that difference is hard to see. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, each day a small nation of 3.1 million U.S. public school teachers stands in front of a large nation of about 50.1 million students. We tinker with chemicals, create mathematical equations, make music, and analyze the nuances of language. We do this so each child has an equal shot at learning. It's no small task, and many teachers quit. According to a 2014 report by the Alliance for Excellent Education, nearly half a million U.S. teachers change schools or leave the profession each year. They do so because of a lack of administrative support, isolated working conditions, poor student discipline, and low salaries. But what about the teachers who work in supportive environments with caring colleagues and administrators? I am one of those teachers, but I still feel burned out. Why? Maybe it's because teaching isn't fun- and that's OK. In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman, a former president of the American Psychological Association and a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, says that many Americans conflate pleasure with gratification, a confusion that

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 30, 2016

Education Week - March 30, 2016
State Boards Feel New Need To Flex Muscles
Distress Call Issued On K-12 Facilities
Can ‘Micro-Credentialing’ Salvage Teacher PD?
Sanders Gets Educators’ Attention Despite Limited Specifics on K-12
Table of Contents
DAVID GAMBERG: What Makes a School?
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Common Core: Is Its Achievement Impact Starting To Dissipate?
ACT’s New 10th Grade Test Provides Competition for PSAT
N.C. Law Restricts Transgender Student Restroom Access
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Group Probes Ed-Tech Pricing, Buying
Home Schooling Gains Popularity With Military Families
Blogs of the Week
‘Teach to Lead’ Projects Face Uphill Climb at State Level
Hearing Weighs Student-Data Privacy Concerns
High Court Weighing Birth-Control Mandate
ESSA Rule Negotiators Grapple With Issues of Flexibility, Equity
ROBERT EVANS: Principals, Get Your Irish On
PATRICK O’CONNOR: Why Good Teachers Don’t Have to ‘Like’ Teaching
JONATHAN ECKERT: Finding Joy in Teaching
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace

Education Week - March 30, 2016