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A Personal Word on the BAT-AFT Teacher Stress Survey

May 18, 2015

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:

My own.

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.

tightrope closeup

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.

Moving on.

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.

hope

_______________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has her second book available on pre-order, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, due for publication June 12, 2015.

14 Comments
  1. I haven’t been in an actual K-12 classroom in many years so I would not be qualified to fill out the survey. My concern with the survey is related to how teachers have been treated in the past; i.e., “the teacher is burned out” and that places the burden completely on the individual instead of the systemic force -field analysis. My next concern is similar to what happens to service personnel when they come back from the battle field: i.e., “you had a personality disorder before you went to Afghanistan” so this is not service related and you will get no medical care. With that kind of response from the powerful bureaucrats and politicians it is again the burden of the individual’s resources. I don’t know if AFT had any specific goal in mind but leaving teachers to fight these battles one case at a time or hiring individual lawyers doesn’t appeal to me. The teachers in the past have been “forced out” if they were in the situation of offering up a complaint of any kind; with today’s stress on conformity I don’t know if responding to a questionnaire would help??? but then I am not qualified to respond anyway .

    • Laura chapman permalink

      You are under estimating the importance of your role in this discussion, and your wisdom. The analogy with the treatment of military personnel is apt.

    • I don’t think AFT had ANY goal in mind…. at first. It was the BATs who, I think, brought TEACHER SUICIDES to their attention. Go to the UK and you can read about the rising tide of teacher suicides. But here in the USA? Pfffffst. I know of SEVERAL in the LA area. Common Core, AFT, NEA, etc., didn’t bully, intimidate, retaliate, yell, twist… Bullying is RAMPANT in education yet everyone here acts as though the only problem is RANDI et al. Read Jo and Jo Blase’s Principal Mistreatment book. Matt Shepherd wrote about school boards that exploit children. And then read books on “teacher burnout” that COMPLETELY ignore bullying as a potential source of burnout. Or look at the MASSIVE school bullying INDUSTRY, complete with international associations and gobs of assemblies, books, speakers, etc., all about kids as encompassing the totality of bullying at school, and then inferring by default that schools are inherently benign and loving places and it just is kids who bully.

      Teachers who actually work anonymously (I.e., the ones who don’t write blogs or books; who “just work” in them) are often scared spitless to question the authority of a bully boss (or co-worker). Read the NEA’s “bullying survey”… It’s a heavily sanitized whitewash. When the AFT/BATs report hit the news, I emailed them re: what have you done (since I am NEA) and they sent me a form email. I messaged them on Facebook and have heard nothing.

      You guys have to get out of your self-made towers, thinking that if you are battling Randi, Bill, Michelle and Arne on paper and via blog you are making any difference in the classrooms! This problem is far more entrenched than all of them.

      Please… start thinking about the teachers in the classrooms. Don’t you want to know how teachers are bullied and harassed? And how school facilities in poor repair is experienced? What about retaliation for having a disability? Or being LGBT or Asian or not Christian? The survey includes charter, private and parochial schools.

      In my 42 years of being in the classroom I have personally observed far more tenacity and insight with BATs than in any blog or book or national teachers union. But for the BATs to have accomplished what they have these past two years… it boggles my mind.

      So I doubt BATs would lay down and play nice when it comes to whatever comes out of the survey. When you learn other teachers have committed suicide… and you KNOW the kind of mistreatment that leads to it via your own experiences… you develop a deeply tenacious spirit that doesn’t give a $&@? about broader issues like Common Core. It’s part of the problem!!! But it didn’t directly cause a suicide as far as I know.

  2. The original intent of this informal survey was not to provide a set of quantitative data that be scientifically used for analysis. This is merely to provide an insight into how may be be currently feeling in current working conditions. BATs, not having any type of financial backing, was happy to have AFT assist with the collection of information and the publicizing of what educational professionals already know, teachers are under an increasingly alarming amount of stress. As a result we have been able to gain the attention of others to conduct further research that be better suited for scientific analysis. It has also opened the for educational professionals to discuss, in deeper contexts, the stress we feel. I thank you for taking part in that by sharing your own story.

  3. Janice Strauss permalink

    Thank-you for all you do in trying to save public education. I share your concerns about the AFT. I was at a rally in Albany, NY and personally watched Randi jump up and down (literally) with excitement about the Common Core. I went into an instant depression. I’m not eligible to fill out the survey – I looked at it but it wanted those with current k-12 positions. I am a retired middle school teacher and now supervise student teachers and therefore am in many classrooms. I do see first hand the effects of CC. I think if I see one more lesson for ESL K and 1st graders on the difference between fiction and “informational” text, or where to find the title and subtitles, or what an illustration is, I am going to scream!

  4. I certainly understand your reasons for refusing to participate in the survey, but I’m glad so many teachers did–and I’m glad you did here. The nation’s largest teachers union has quite a soap box to stand on in publicizing the preliminary findings of the survey, and so it was a smart partnership. I can’t speak for the 55,000 members of BATs, but my guess is they will continue to push AFT and other unions to truly represent their own members against the corporate raiding of public education, something union leaders have been loathe to do.

  5. sgoodwick permalink

    Read how the survey started. It was suicides. Teachers who’ve committed suicide because of untenable stressors. I seriously doubt that a political football called Common Core would cause anyone by itself to commit suicide. More like being bluntly yelled at by administrators, in front of students and colleagues…. “Stress” is a misnomer. Read the survey. Facilities … ya think having chronic, severe leaks from holes in the ceiling or no furniture or toilet paper can be troublesome? What about bullying? Harassment? Ya think the various minorities are experiencing them? Ageism. Safety…. These are all part of the survey. And it’s not just the AFT. It’s BATs. A very active group of teachers. Randi may be President of the AFT … but not the BATs. There is a HUGE difference between having a deep disagreement over current trends in education (Common Core, VAM, etc.) and being bullied or harassed while having no support. The first is merely cognitive pain. The second however leads to potentially long-standing physical and mental ailments.

    • I know the backstory about the survey. Jamy and I had a conversation about it, but I did not think that conversation should be in my post.

      This post is about my experience with the survey. In it I don not try to best anyone by having the worst tale. My story is what it is.

      I do not trust Randi Weingarten, period. She is a politician first and foremost.

      • ira shor permalink

        Mercedes is absolutely right not to trust Randi Weingarten. The collaboration of the once-independent BATS with Weingarten is one of the biggest mistakes and setbacks to grassroots opposition in this recent period. CCSS-booster and Gates-recipient, Weingarten will never allow AFT to use its organized weight to stop CCSS, PARCC/SBAC, or to stop the horrendous reauthorization of ESEA. Weingarten and the AFT leadership should be pushed and pressured from the bottom up and from the outside in, and then voted out of leadership so teacher-friendly members can finally organize the union as a fighting force. The argument that AFT money was a good reason to partner with the retrograde AFT leadership on this teacher survey is ridiculous–digital tools make such surveys inexpensive. Until AFT and NEA, expel their mis-leaders, we teachers will continue to lose ground.

      • sgoodwick permalink

        When you got the email from the AFT and Randi, the Washington Post article hadn’t even been written, much less imagined. So I don’t see your logic in not taking the survey, especially since all you had at that time was an email and a link. You link a May 15 article to an action you allegedly took weeks earlier. I think you were more interested in waiting to comment on an unwritten article rather than conduct honest research via actually taking the survey and reflecting upon the entirety of the issues it raised and/or failed to raise.

        In reading your expansive blog re: the survey I am massively and profoundly struck by one thing- your blog ISNT about the survey. It’s about your disdain for Randi.

        It’s like you fancy yourself a movie critic, write an expansive blog about a movie you don’t like… but you never went to the theater!

        Your blog states you are a researcher. How can you call yourself a researcher when you write about something you didn’t research?

        But then again, we teachers are used to that via Common Core.

      • I have an issue when ever anyone says “honest” research; my last title before I retired was “Director of Research and Evaluation” and i would hate to tell you what goes on…… but that is another reason why I am very skeptical of any questionnaires that any one sends out or survey instruments; maybe I have a jaundiced eye…. but this is another reason I did not want to respond to the BAT/AFT questions….. I have supported BATs in every way I think I can but I have not been a classroom teacher for so long it would be wrong for me to pose as one to fill out a questionnaires; yet, i still think our opinions are important…. as we build broader coalitions …. this blog is essential in helping to understand what is going on in the various states and to have the perspective from the author of the blog when it comes to all of these issues that are so vital to the profession and essential to safeguard the students (our children and grandchildren)

        honest research via actually taking the survey and reflecting upon the entirety of the issues it raised and/or failed to raise.

        jeanhaverhill@aol.com

      • My issues with Randi Weingarten go back to October 2013. As to the survey link, it was to a follow-up on manipulating a slide presentation of the result. I did not link to my full study of the survey.

        You feel free to slam me however you like. My gift to you.

  6. 2old2tch permalink

    I tried to answer it even though I am out of teaching. While CCSS had not hit us yet, data driven performance measures had. Working in a school system that had never made AYP, we were continually under pressure to improve. You can guess the demographics and the level of funding. I think I slept for most of the summer after I was not renewed. The 60-70 hour weeks took a toll on me both mentally and physically. And yet, I so wanted to keep teaching, but over 60 teachers are not a hot commodity. In the current climate, unless I was in a highly supportive district, I could not teach, so perhaps I was “lucky” to be an early victim of this insanity.

  7. As usual, well said. Have a great end of the year and a wonderful summer; I look forward to having more time to read your writings.

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