Our survey shows a real need for action

Every day, educators are making a difference in children's lives—and they do it despite staggering obstacles. Recently, the AFT collaborated with the Badass Teachers Association to survey educators on how their working conditions affect them, and the results show that the obstacles they face at work are taking more of a toll than ever.

Ninety-six percent of the educators who took our survey say they're physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day, and 87 percent say the demands of their job interfere with family life. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

After seeing the results of this survey, I am convinced that we need a scientific study on how work is affecting teachers and school employees' health and well-being. We're asking members to urge the Department of Education to take on this important research.

Teaching and caring for our students is a tough job—it means being brilliant, inspirational, loving, tough and compliant, all day, every day. Anyone who goes into education welcomes this challenge, but with the advent of high-stakes testing, the spike in income inequality and the cuts to public education funding, the pressure on teachers has been immense.

In the United States, there's never been an in-depth and broad study of educators' working conditions and stressors, and the accompanying health effects. So, the AFT worked with classroom teachers and created a voluntary survey to begin to scratch the surface of understanding stress and its health effects for teachers and other school employees. In less than two weeks, we got nearly 32,000 responses—and they were heartbreaking. We need a real scientific study on the implications of workplace stress on educators.

Nearly half of respondents are no longer as enthusiastic about their profession as they were when they started. Educators who took the survey reported that some of their biggest stressors were mandated curriculum, standardized tests, and the adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development. After seeing these survey results, I'm not exaggerating when I say that high-stakes testing has made teaching 100 percent more stressful.

I imagine that most workers can relate to feeling stressed at work, but this survey also shows how far from the truth the stereotypes of educators are. Jobs in public education are not, like many Americans believe, low-stress jobs that end when the dismissal bell rings.

In spite of all of the increased pressure and stress, educators are not giving up. Just 14 percent say they are very likely to seek employment outside the field of education within the next year. But we need to better understand this problem and tackle it head-on before things get worse. A scientific study will help us better understand how our country's entire education infrastructure can support teachers and school staff in the challenging but crucial work of educating our children.

On May 14, I sent a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and NIOSH Director John Howard asking them to mount a scientific study on working conditions for educators. You can join us in calling for congressional hearings on this important issue.

By the way, if you are an educator and haven't taken the anonymous survey yet, it's not too late to add your voice. Take the survey.