In my 11 years of teaching, I have rarely felt anger towards my students. I have lost sleep over them, worried about them and been frustrated when I couldn’t reach them. I have definitely had flashes of anger when they were cruel to others. However, my students are truly the best part of my job.
Despite this, I get angry. To be honest, so do many teachers.
Teacher anger isn’t something that we want to talk about. It is rather taboo. Just like the archetype created of women in countless movies and stories – sinner or saint. Archetypes clearly exist for teachers. Depending on who you ask or what film you watch, we are either heroic saints or incompetent fools.
Teachers are often brought out as tools for political fodder. Politicians visit the classrooms and tout how much they love teachers, while at the same time introducing more standardized tests and cutting funding for resources and school repairs.
New curriculum and pedagogical initiatives are introduced while little to no time is provided for collaboration, even though it is touted at all Professional Development sessions as extremely important.
Teachers are asked to do more, be more, achieve more and yet when they do there is very little acknowledgement and often a lot of criticism.
Teachers are angry. They are tired of being used as political tools. Exhausted at being asked to be social workers, mental health professionals, pedagogical experts and creative geniuses with little support and no extra time.
What I find most fascinating is that your angriest teachers are often your most effective. Most people don’t even know they are angry.
These teachers are the ones that volunteer to run Professional Development, actively participate in school initiatives, fight for equity and work tirelessly for their students. They do so because they honestly believe that their work matters, and they want you to believe it to. They work tirelessly, smile appropriately and quietly simmer below the surface.
These teachers are passionate, caring, creative and incredibly hard working. They almost fit that heroic saint archetype, except that this archetype ignores how angry they are.
If we don’t talk about teacher anger then we risk having our brightest stars burn out.
Teacher anger towards students is rarely okay. It can happen, but our students look up to us and we have to treat them kindly and respectfully no matter the situation. We are in a position of power and privilege over our students and we can never forget that or abuse our privileged position.
However, teacher anger at a system that continually expects them to be more and often tells them they are not enough has to be addressed. If you want real change in education, we have to talk to these teachers. Often they are angry about changes that need to happen – inequities, policies that harm their students and procedures that exclude both student and teacher voice.
The hierarchy of our system sometimes means that the same voices are listened to over and over again at the expense of those who directly work with our kids.
By treating teacher anger as taboo, you risk burning out your most passionate voices, losing empowering educators and ignoring opportunities to create positive changes for kids.
Teacher anger, when addressed productively and channelled effectively, can be a catalyst for positive change in our system.
We need to offer teachers opportunities to provide constructive feedback in a safe environment on the education system. These should be done in small focus groups as opposed to board wide or provincial surveys where information is often lost in translation or reduced to data talking points. If you truly want to understand the trials and tribulations of teachers, you need to talk them – face to face.
If you are a Principal/Vice-Principal you need to be aware of the load you place on your teachers. I recognize that this can be hard to do. Principals/Vice Principals often seem to run around tending to numerous fires while balancing the pressures from below and above. To be honest, leading like you do – from the middle – is both daunting and impressive.
However, even with this, it is important to check in on your teachers. Most administrators – to their credit – tend to recognize and support their struggling teachers. However, there are many teachers those in the middle and those who are teacher leaders in the school who are largely overlooked. Small acts like sending out thank you emails or asking how someone is managing with all the extra tasks they have taken on goes a long way. If teachers feel cared for by their administrators, they are more likely to work harder and be supportive of your initiatives.
Once again, it all comes down to relationships.
To be a great teacher, you have to love your students. To be a great Vice-Principal/Principal, you have to love students and your teachers. Ultimately, addressing and acknowledging the validity of teacher anger can lead to changes that benefit students, parents, school leaders and yes, even teachers.
Let’s be honest teacher anger may be taboo to talk about, but teacher apathy is far more damaging.