I believe that being a teacher is one of the most important, yet most undervalued careers.
Youth spend six to eight hours per day with their teachers - this is often more than anyone else, including their parents. Teachers inspire a curiosity for learning and are in charge sculpting our children's minds. Because teachers have such an influential role on our children's development, they should be honoured, respected and well taken care of.
We have been working our teachers into sickness. Findings from Canadian research studies have consistently revealed that teachers work long hours that extend well beyond the standard 35- to 40-hour work week, with New Brunswick teachers averaging 52 hours per week. Not only is the sheer volume of their work demanding, but there has also been an increased complexity in the nature of their work in the last decade.
The workload of teachers has been associated with a host of negative consequences across multiple domains, including the health of teachers, job performance and satisfaction, the personal lives of teachers, and the larger educational system (i.e., problematic rates of absenteeism, disability claims and attrition).
A 2012 report on Saskatchewan teachers indicated that 45% of teachers reported feeling stressed at least a few times each week, 61% had reported becoming ill during the year due to work-related stress, and 84% agreed that they often worked when ill. The researcher states, 'These findings paint a familiar yet troublesome picture that many teachers may recognize: the image of a stressed teacher who is sick yet unwilling to take time off to heal.' The five most common physical health concerns among teachers were colds/flus, sleep problems, headaches, sore throats and back pain. However, stress also impacts teacher's mental-emotional health with stress, anxiety, depression and other psychological conditions being the leading causes of workplace absences. As well, antidepressants are the most common prescriptive medication used among teachers.
A 2009 CBC article titled 'Teacher stress is killing my profession' further commented that there is also a 'largely undocumented group of what I call the walking wounded, those teachers whose energy levels have been sapped so much by all the new administrative demands that they have little left over to give directly to their students.' A 2012 Saskatchewan study confirmed this statement as 84% of the teachers reported fatigue resulting from work and 51% of the teachers in this sample stated that, if they found a viable career alternative, they would leave teaching.
And the teachers we do lose have been described as the best and brightest. 'Burnout is more common in the young, highly motivated, energetic, hard-working teacher,' says Dr. Ronald Martin at the University of Regina. 'The people who burn out are the people who pour everything into it without balance.' Clearly, we need to invest inteachers to ensure that they stay focused and fresh and have opportunities to renew their passion for the profession, because teachers cannot share enthusiasm for learning with students when they feel tired and overburdened.
Research has shown that healthy teachers are more engaged with their students, more influential on the students, and miss less school, meaning less interruption in the class flow. I believe this also addresses a key issue in contemporary education: how to improve teacher quality in the face of increasing demands in the education system and during a time of depleted resources.
If we are able to keep our teachers healthy, this will not only improve the academic delivery at our schools, but also teachers will be in a good position to act as positive role models for students, parents and the community. A teacher who is on a personal journey to wellness can have a good influence on the health of students and others.
Dear teachers: Since we don't have the option to reduce the workload, then we must take steps to protect your body from the stress. I am very grateful for the amazing teachers I had when I was growing up. Their care, inspiration and knowledge have shaped who I am today. I am forever indebted. Therefore, I am committed to giving back and helping out the teachers as much as I can. I am pleased to announce that visits at the Moncton Naturopathic Medical Clinic are covered by your teacher's health insurance. As well, I would like to work with the teachers outside of the clinic, by offering a series of free health and wellness presentations to teachers at schools in Metro Moncton.
I strongly believe that naturopathic medicine can help you no matter where you are on the health continuum. If you are feeling healthy, then my goal is to make sure you stay healthy. I want to make sure we keep you healthy today, tomorrow, five years, and 20 years down the road. And if you are in a position where you have started to experience some symptoms (e.g. tiredness, headaches, weight gain, low mood, digestive disorders, skin conditions, difficulty sleeping, etc.), then it is my job to act as your medical detective to find and treat the root cause of your condition. By determining the root cause(s) of your health condition, treatment can be more individually prescribed to re-balance bodily systems and offers better long-term success.
'Doctor' in Latin means 'teacher.' As a naturopathic doctor, I want to teach the teachers how to be healthy. This, at the very least, will improve the health of our teachers and keep their passion for the profession strong. However, the potential effect of having healthy teachers goes well beyond the individual teacher; it influences our youth's education quality and health. It is time to take care of the self-sacrificing individuals who are shaping our future generation.
Dr. Nicholas Anhorn, BSc, ND is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor and is currently accepting new patients at the Moncton Naturopathic Medical Clinic located at 12 Fifth Street in Moncton (382-1329). Dr. Anhorn provides professional and personalized health care for the whole family. In addition to family medicine, he also has a special interest and advanced training in helping patients with pain management, detoxification and cancer. Additional information can be found on www.monctonnaturopathic.com.
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