Schools Need More Fun

Are you having fun?

Schools should be full of fun but they are actually turning into work-life balance crisis centres where wellbeing hangs by a thread and stress contagion has gone viral.

Not only that but stressed-out teachers are passing all their angst and anxieties onto children.

Researchers collected saliva samples from over 400 elementary school children and tested their cortisol levels. They found that in classrooms in which teachers experienced more burnout, or feelings of emotional exhaustion, students’ cortisol levels were elevated. Higher cortisol levels in elementary school children have been linked to learning difficulties as well as mental health problems.

Eva Oberle, the study’s lead author said,

It is unknown what came first – elevated cortisol or teacher burnout. We consider the connection between student and teacher stress a cyclical problem in the classroom.

Teachers are part of the reason children are suffering from more stress and this isn’t new.

Answer: we need to change the language, recalibrate our priorities, have no complaint zones and introduce a cult of fun.

Secret Teacher tells us,

In recent years the internet has provided an undeniably wonderful platform for teachers to share advice, ideas and experiences. But it has also provided a soapbox for tireless negativity and tiresome self-regard.

Secret Teacher is right.

There’s too much moaning and too much complaining and children are picking up the pieces are being made victims of it.

We could of course look to the world of business and see how they cope. Loads of firms seem to be addicted to fun and keeping a happy workforce.

Some companies have rock-climbing walls in their reception areas and Red Bull even has a giant slide in its London office. Google can outdo the lot – it has a yellow brick road, bicycle paths and volleyball courts.

Even better, TD Bank, the American arm of Canada’s Toronto Dominion, actually has a “Wow!” Department that dispatches costume-clad teams to “surprise and delight” workers.

This is what the government needs to invest in. Let’s scrap Ofsted and have a Happiness Department where inspectors go into schools unannounced and report exclusively on whether a school is happy or not. Then your school can display a banner “We are an unhappy school” or “We are borderline depressive” or “We are outstandingly happy!”

If you think I’m not treating this seriously, I am. Schools don’t need accountability pressures that make teachers unhappy – they need freedom to enjoy their work so that they can pass on happiness vibes to children.

The ‘system’ has made some teachers miserable but we have a duty to be professional and to stop the chronic complaining as we need more positivity in the job – it’s not doing the children any good. Do we therefore need just to shut up and teach and find the fun?

John Cartaina (2009) in his book The Culture of Incompetence: The Mind-Set That Destroys Inner-City Schools, tells us that 

Teachers must have enthusiasm for their jobs and professions. They should stop complaining. If things are so bad, they should change jobs or professions.

Children are very aware of and directly influenced by how their teachers feel about themselves and their work (Sutton & Wheatley, 2003).

As Bullough Jr and Pinnegar (2009) note, “They know when a teacher is a phony and especially when she is unhappy….What makes the experience of teaching or being a teacher life affirming and powerful is the experience of eudaimonia.”

Without eudaimonia – a state of well-being and the state of flourishing as a human – what kind of teachers are we?

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