Many quit but she wouldn’t:
Meet Jane, the Primary School Teacher
Jane scored her job as depending on the day (with ten being the most fantastic job imaginable).
by Caroline Knight and Daniela Andrei
Over 40% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years, according to one report , with those left in the job often experiencing burnout, lack of support, and feeling undervalued. So what makes teachers stay?
Jane is an experienced primary school teacher in Western Australia. A usual day of work for her is longer that most people would expect. She arrives at school around 7.30am, allowing herself an hour to prepare for the school day. The day is filled with reading practice, supervising recess, and then lessons in different subjects, such as health, history, geography, and social studies. Jane leaves around 5pm.
On Thursdays, the children take Drama lessons with another teacher. Jane appreciates this non-contact time to get paperwork, preparation, and admininstration done, of which there is always an abundance, from assessments and marking to individual education plans to photocopying and preparing for the following week.
Jane reports working 40-50 hours, fitted into a part-time four-day week.
Grappling with technological change
Jane’s job comes with the challenge of mintaining a good work-life balance. The workload in terms of paperwork can be especially high.
Another challenge is new technology. Jane is not especially comfortable with technology such as laptops, new programmes, and interactive whiteboards and screens. It can be very frustrating when the technology fails and other people have to be enlisted to help. Jane prefers books as opposed to computers, and acknowledges that she’s the only teacher in the school who still uses a blackboard. She is philosophical about her struggle with technology and positive about her progress with it, telling herself that she’s ‘never too old to learn’ and ‘as long as [she’s] learning something new every day, that’s ok’.
There are also emotional demands in the job. Even if she isn’t feeling 100%, she must come into work and put in 100%, acting as if everything is ok, otherwise the children quickly pick up on how the teacher is feeling. Acting as though everything is ok when it isn’t can be a large burden. Being “always on” is an example of what has been called ‘emotional labor’.
But research shows that social support can buffer against the negative effects of emotional demands . To this end, Jane enjoys the camaraderie and support from other teachers. She says there is much collaboration and sharing of ideas, which can be very helpful and enables her to grow as a teacher. Jane also draws energy from the children, who are responsive, positive and funny, and prevent her feeling down.
It is likely that the support Jane receives from her colleagues, alongside the reward from the children’s positive reactions, helps her manage the high work load and emotional demands in the job.
A further important aspect that prevents Jane from feeling too strongly the negative effects of her workload and job demands is that she focuses on the significance of her job. Jane enjoys the ‘light bulb moments’ when a child who has been struggling with a concept has an ‘aha!’ moment and his/her face lights up. The ability to make a difference to children in this way is important to Jane, who finds immense satisfaction and reward in seeing children develop.
Thrive as a teacher
As Jane highlights, being a teacher requires certain personal characteristics in order to thrive and be successful, namely, flexibility and adaptability to try new things when a task or activity isn’t working well in class, compassion, kindness, passion and enthusiasm. These types of qualities are often referred to as ‘personal resources’.
The Job Demands-Resources model  predicts that high personal resources alongside high job resources (i.e. job characteristics such as social support, task significance, autonomy & feedback) leads to positive outcomes such as increased health and well-being, and performance.
With high personal resources and job resources, it seems that the outlook for Jane is highly optimistic and we suspect that she won’t be leaving the teaching profession any time soon.
A Little More
Cruickshank, V., & MacDonals, A. (2018, January 15). Teachers who feel appreciated are less likely to leave the profession. The Conversation. Retrieved from:
Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Euwema, M. C. (2005). Job resources buffer the impact of job demands on burnout. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10(2), 170-180.
Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The job demands-resources model: State of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22(3), 309–328.
Grant, A.M., & Sonentag, S. (2010). Doing good buffers against feeling bad: Prosocial impact compensates for negative task and self-evaluations. Orgnanizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 111, 13-22.
Behind The Scenes
We meet Jane in the morning, just before school begins for the Year 3 students she teaches. She is with a couple of parents and grandparents who help her with the morning reading session, and she is excited for the day ahead. She has already thought of a few changes to the schedule for the day that will allow the children to benefit more from the artist’s presence in the classroom. She looks again at the schedule and reorders activities, informing children about the changes. The change is dealt with seamlessly and without issue, suggesting it’s a common occurrence. We feel that this is not the first time that things are switched around, and is indicative of the autonomy teachers have in this school.
We ask Jane where she’d like us to arrange Lynne’s working space to best capture the classroom scene. She informs us that this could be an issue, proclaiming ‘I never sit!’ . She also doesn’t stand in one place for too long. “I float” she tells us, and this is what we see in the morning session. One moment she’s at the board, then at the back of the classroom, then with a child in the front row, then moving quickly in-between the rows of benches and chairs, all the while speaking softly with the children. With all this movement Lynne can hardly sketch her, but in the end Lynne manages to sketch her in a few different positions in the classroom, reflecting her constant movement.
The children are excited too to have the artist present. We have the sense that they come more often than usual to pick tissues from the teacher’s desk situated just behind us. On their way, they try to take a peak at Lynne’s sketches and you can see their faces light up when they recognise a person or item in the drawing.
In the afternoon, after the sketching and interviews are finished, Lynne gives the class a workshop. Everyone is excited, teacher and children alike! Jane looks around and takes pictures during the activities. She is so proud to see the children’s drawings, especially those of children who still struggle with learning English as a second language.