A Personal Word on the BAT-AFT Teacher Stress Survey
On May 12, 2015, the Badass Association of Teachers (BATs) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) produced the first of what will likely be many reports on information collected as part of an online survey on teacher stress.
The report linked above is posted on the AFT website and introduces the survey as follows:
After concerns of stress on the job were reported to the Badass Teachers Association, a survey on well-being, working conditions and stressors for educators was designed by a group of teachers who are members of the American Federation of Teachers or BATs, and it was reviewed and refined by a workplace stress expert and a professional pollster. Circulated via email and social media, the survey was posted online on April 21 and closed on May 1. The first of its kind, the 80-question survey was filled out by more than 30,000 educators.
The survey can be viewed here.
I plan to write about the survey results; however, I am waiting until the BATs are ready to release the actual response rates for each of the categorical questions on the survey. (Some questions are open-ended and thus are not tabulated by category. These open-ended responses must be analyzed using qualitative research techniques.)
For now, in this post, I would like to offer a teacher stressor response more like an individual case study:
What I write is my experience, and I offer it here in hopes that my experience might prove useful to those who read it. Though they are candid, my words are not intended to negatively reflect on the BATs’ noble effort to support teachers by publicizing the stress we currently face as a matter of course under test-score-driven, teacher-scapegoating, corporate “reform.”
What follows is simply my perspective on the matter of both the BATs survey and my own “teacher stress” experience.
I saw the invitation to take the survey on the BATs Facebook page, and I also received an email from AFT about the survey. I chose not to complete the survey. My immediate thought upon seeing the invitation was that one needs no survey to know that teachers are under tremendous stress to prove their worth in student test score outcomes.
However, I realize now that the survey was a chance for teachers to not only have a voice, 80 questions of brief catharsis, but also for BATs to preserve a record of teacher stress in an effort to combat it.
What sealed the deal for my deciding not to complete the survey was AFT’s involvement in the effort. In its 2013 survey on teachers perceptions of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), AFT manipulated the reporting of the result to make it appear that teacher support for CCSS was more solid than it actually was. This led to the fabricated-yet-popular media message that teachers are fine with CCSS and that it is only implementation that is the problem.
In her May 12, 2015, article on the BAT-AFT survey, Washington Post writer Lyndsey Layton draws attention to the idea that it is CCSS implementation that it the problem– as if teachers are automatically fine with there being a CCSS to begin with:
Teachers said they feel particularly anxious about having to carry out a steady stream of new initiatives — such as implementing curricula and testing related to the Common Core State Standards — without being given adequate training, according to the survey.
The BAT-AFT survey question to which Layton’s statement connects, number 28, makes no mention of CCSS. However, I have heard Layton jump to this “implementation is the problem” conclusion before in her March 2014 interview with billionaire Bill Gates. And regarding CCSS implementation, she refers to Weingarten.
CCSS is an undeniable part of the AFT agenda.
Concerning the BAT-AFT survey, I did not want my words on the stress in my professional life to be open to manipulation to suit some AFT agenda.
Indeed, AFT President Randi Weingarten’s decisions so often go against what one might call “teacher support” that I include her among the top stressors connected to my professional life. She supports CCSS and has even given as her reason that for her, CCSS support is “personal.” Moreover, she only reluctantly agreed to take no more Gates money when put on the spot by education historian Diane Ravitch in a session at the 2015 Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Chicago. Finally, she refuses to take a public stand against Democratic governors who are horrible toward teachers (Cuomo of New York; Malloy of Connecticut), and she even engages in highly-questionable, back-door Cuomo support actions such as the September 2014 robocall for Cuomo running mate, Kathy Hochul.
Weingarten appears to be little more than a willing errand girl for the corporate-bent Democratic National Party. That stresses me, a teacher who regularly pays AFT dues from her frozen teacher salary. I expect I am far from alone on this one.
Other notable professional stressors on me include the top-down nature of corporate reform. Both the US secretary of education and Louisiana state superintendent are bent on destroying teaching as a profession and replacing it with the likes of turnstile temp teachers from Teach for America (TFA). Nevertheless, I am employed by a district that values career teachers and to date has refused to employ TFAers. The district is stable and has an established reputation among teachers as a desirable district in which to teach– the same as it had when I became a teacher in 1991.
As to local support, I know that my district or school-level administrators are not trying to get rid of me. That noted, I still must deal with my professional worth as being tied to student test scores. The criteria is ever-changing. This year, I have received a formal classroom observation rating of “effective.” Also, according to my students’ End-of-Course (EOC) tests, I have been rated “highly effective”– though I wonder the degree to which their high scores is evidence of their improving ability to take computerized tests.
The final measure was the most uncertain for me: It is a VAM-like concoction using the ACT series of tests (Explore for grade 9, PLAN for grade 10, and ACT for grade 11). Here’s how this game goes: I teach tenth grade. At the beginning of the year, I had to count the number of students who had a 14 or higher on Explore or a 15 or higher on PLAN. These students were considered to be “on level.” The rest were not. So, of those who were not, I was supposed to show that 10 percent “grew” to reach the acceptable scoring threshold on the next test in the ACT series in order to be rated “highly effective.” But here’s the catch: Any student who met the previous threshold but did not meet the next was added to the group of students whose scores counted against me.
As it turns out, the scores fell such that I can continue to be rated “effective.” I do not control these scores.
I do not control the scores, yet my livelihood rests on these test scores. And here is the key to my sanity: My faith in Christ is the cornerstone of my life. I know that most of life is out of my control. I do what I can with a thankful and respectful attitude, and I consciously and intentionally leave the rest to God.
One key element I can control is my advocacy. I blog. I speak publicly. I write books. And this regular, intellectual stimulation, this contributing to a greater purpose in serving others, these contributions God uses to strengthen and sustain me as I journey through the burdensome nonsense of test-score-driven “reform.”
Other assets contributing to my mental heath include listening to soothing instrumental music, watching my favorite comedy DVDs, regularly exercising, limiting my time around those who will complain and not act, and practicing a thankful attitude regardless of the circumstances.
Whether all of the above would have emerged in answers to the BAT survey I cannot tell, but I invite readers to take from my words what they find useful and encouraging.
My best to you all.