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Are You A Happy Teacher?

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MetLife surveys about teacher satisfaction are widely discussed. Some commentators focus on the point that 81% of teachers are satisfied (very or somewhat) with their careers. Others talk about the decline in satisfaction - which is all, according to the MetLife data, from very satisfied to somewhat satisfied.

In my teacher leader circles (see here  and here) we talk about our passions and what gnaws at our gut or keeps us up at night until we have to act.

At the inaugural meeting of the Arizona TeacherSolutions team, the ice-breaker was to identify our greatest hopes and biggest fears. At a recent event to support National Board candidates, we broke the ice with, "What draws you to this work?"

But there's one question that no one seems to be asking: Are you a happy teacher?

Last weekend I read Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord. Hector is a psychiatrist who has many patients with medical conditions that make them sad, afraid, have strange thoughts, or have mood imbalances. He is glad that he can treat those patients with medicine and talk therapy and they get better. But Hector is disquieted by the large number of patients who have no identifiable condition. They're just not happy. So he takes a trip around the world and asks people if they're happy or not and writes his observations in a notebook. It's a delightful book and is also a movie, which I'll watch soon.

During his travels, Hector keeps a notebook and writes down these 21 observations:

Making comparisons can spoil your happiness --- Happiness often comes when least expected --- Many people only see happiness in their future --- Many people think happiness comes from having more power or more money --- Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story --- Happiness is a long walk in beautiful, unfamiliar mountains --- It's a mistake to think that happiness is the goal --- Happiness is being with the people you love; unhappiness is being separated from the people you love --- Happiness is knowing that your family lacks for nothing --- Happiness is doing a job you love --- Happiness is having a home and a garden of your own --- It's harder to be happy in a country run by bad people --- Happiness is feeling useful to others --- Happiness is to be loved for exactly who you are (People are kinder to a child who smiles) --- Happiness comes when you feel truly alive --- Happiness is knowing how to celebrate --- Happiness is caring about the happiness of those you love --- Happiness is not attaching too much importance to what other people think --- The sun and the sea make everybody happy --- Happiness is a certain way of seeing things --- Rivalry poisons happiness --- Women care more than men about making others happy --- Happiness means making sure that those around you are happy

Not included in Hector's notebook are three questions a professor of happiness asks him:

    1. What is the difference between the life you have and the life you wish you had?
    2. What is the difference between now and the best period of you life in the past?
    3. What is the difference between what you have and what others have?

Bringing it back to teaching
Hector's observations and the professor's questions can easily be adopted to teaching. For example, happy teachers feel truly alive in the classroom. Or, What is the difference between what you have and other teachers have?

I've spent a fair amount of time pondering my happiness as a teacher this week, but instead of writing my conclusions, I decided to ask you to participate in a simple, very non-scientific survey. My survey asks five multiple choice questions, each with a comment box:

    1. As a teacher are you happier now than you were last year?
    2. Do you think you're happier than most your teaching colleagues? 
    3. Is there a job outside of education that would make you happier?
    4. The question that started it all: Are you a happy teacher?
    5. And finally, what is your teaching context?

(And yes, I noticed that the first three contradict Hector's first observation.)

It really can be completed in a minute, depending on any comments you make. I'd love to get close to 1000 replies. Look for a follow up post in about a month.




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August "Sandy" Merz III, NBCT has taught design and algebra and other STEM subjects at Safford K8 IB World School in Tucson, Arizona since 1987. In 2010 he earned his National Board Certificate in Career and Technical Education. Shortly after that he became active in the teacher leader movement, particularly with the Arizona K12 Center and the Center for Teaching Quality. He writes the Digressive Discourse blog (http://ow.ly/Kpd0O) for CTQ and contributes to Stories from School Arizona (http://ow.ly/KpmOu). His articles have appeared in ED Week, Kappan, Ed Horizons, and Go Teach. Follow Sandy on twitter @amerziii

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Guest Tuesday, 19 March 2019