As a kid, I imitated my teachers. I liked to pretend I was in charge by checking answers or writing corrections on worksheets I’d made up, or I would sneak into empty classrooms just to draw on the dry-erase board. As I got older, I lost all interest in anything to do with school, until I started to hear little comments from my high school teachers; they were up until 2 a.m. grading, or their second child wouldn’t sleep through the night, or if anyone needed help with the coursework they could come to get help as early as six in the morning. It’s a well-known fact that most high schoolers feel overladen with homework and sleep deprivation—but how affected are teachers?
According to the National Education Association, only one-third of high school staff in the United States feel that they are getting a good night’s sleep most of the time. In a system where educators are expected to plan lessons, grade papers, and offer extra help in addition to having personal lives, there’s often little room left for sleep and self-care.
For most teachers, work starts at 6:30 a.m., continues throughout the school day until 3 or 4 p.m., and then continues at home. Most get about six hours of sleep a night, and for some, there are things added to that schedule, like children, second jobs, or getting higher education while being a teacher themselves.
When asked about their biggest stressors, teachers mentioned the class sizes the most. Bigger class sizes make for more work and less attention for struggling students.
“Class sizes are huge. In my five years [of] teaching, this year I have the biggest classes I’ve ever had…. I really wish that our school system could find a way to create smaller class sizes so we could easily meet the needs of each individual learner,” said Spanish teacher Mr. Morfoot. “But I understand there’s not much that we as teachers can do to remediate that problem, but I think that’s probably the biggest problem: meeting the needs of students when we have such large classes.”
Most teachers are getting too little sleep and not enough of the time and resources that they need in order to grade and teach to the best of their ability. One English teacher mentioned not being able to grade until 9 p.m. because she had to take care of her children. Even then, the essays that English teachers work with might take up to 15 minutes to grade. When you have “a hundred essays coming in, it really adds up.”
Another thing I heard about for the first time was the term “teacher burn-out”– many young teachers have trouble learning how to balance their lives with the immense workload they’re hit within their first years of work. On the other side, teachers with decades’ worth of experience eventually tire of sleep deprivation and constant demand. If school systems want to see improvements in how much time and attention teachers are able to give to their students and lessons, more planning periods and smaller class sizes would be the ideal way to make it happen.