Recently, there have been quite a few articles about the effects of stress on teachers and students. I'm beginning to wonder if people think this is a new phenomenon. I'm here to tell you that it is most definately NOT something new. That being said, I do think the issue is becoming more mainstream, as more and more teachers and students find themselves in higher stakes situations as the gradual shift in teaching and learning is taking place.
For example, I remember sitting with two other administrators in my division one afternoon. One worked in an at-risk school similar to my own, and the other worked in a building which served a more affluent community. The more affluent school administrator said to us, "Is it just me, or is everyone really stressed out this year?" My colleague from the at-risk school turned to me and said, "I can't remember the last time our teachers weren't stressed!"
I do not work in a Common Core state. Actually, there are times when I wish we followed the Common Core standards because from what I can tell, they allow opportunity to focus on a deeper understanding of the subject rather than just scraping the surface of a multitude of concepts. Regardless of where any of us work, the standardized tests we are administrating to our students have changed in the past couple of years. They require students to use critical thinking and problem solving skills in order to get the right answer. I remember stopping by a computer lab during which some of our honors level students were taking a practice version of the 6th grade reading test, and one of the students expressed frustration to me because she wasn't able to use the test taking strategies to find the answers. She said she actually had to read the entire passage! Read the entire passage? What a travesty! What strategies have we been teaching our students?
Long story short, a passing score is no longer a given, even in schools where teachers and students have taken passing scores for granted for so many years. Teachers are having to go beyond the content area if they are to ensure students are going to be successful with these tests. They have been amping up their questioning strategies, and are providing additional opportunities for students to collaborate, problem-solve, and think critically. Unfortunately, these strategies may not be inevery teacher's toolbox.
As much as we want them to sometimes, these standards aren't going away. In fact, they are going to become more complex as the push to prepare students to be successful in this century continues. It's up to us as administrators to acknowledge the stress our teachers are under, and provide them with opportunities to "upgrade" their toolbox through professional development sessions, peer observations, and, most importantly, guided conversations in grade level and content area PLC meetings.
So, the next time you are talking with your teachers, ask them how they are doing, and be prepared to listen to their concerns. While you may not be able to take away all of their stress, you may be able to help alleviate some of it with a few simple changes.