No, teachers are not so bad


Two and a half months after the broadcast of the hashtag #pasdevagues , launched in October by teachers to denounce the lack of support from their hierarchy in the face of school violence, the movement of red pens is gaining momentum. Its supporters claim among other things a thaw of the index point and the end of job cuts .

These events, as well as events regularly occurring in educational institutions, reflect a certain image, sometimes extreme, of the teaching profession. But is this representative of what the majority of them live? To get a reliable idea of ​​the reality, it is important to be able to rely on data representative of all teachers.

This was the subject of the national survey “Quality of Life of Teachers” conducted in 2013 by the MGEN Foundation for Public Health, in partnership with the Ministry of Education. After five years of investigation, seven scientific articles have been published from these data, others are in progress.

This summary presents an overview of the quality of life of teachers and deconstructs certain clichés associated with the profession. In the end, the picture is not necessarily so black as one might think.

The survey “Quality of life of teachers”

In 2013, 5,000 teachers were selected by drawing lots in the directory of National Education staff. They were sent a detailed questionnaire about their work environment, their professional well-being and their quality of life.

As evidenced by the participation rate of around 55%, the survey was very well received. The answers obtained were then enriched by administrative and weighted data, in order to be extrapolated to all teachers in France.

While a residual health-related bias may persist even after adjustment (generally speaking, people with health problems are less likely to respond to surveys), it seems limited here since it was found in the basics administrative data that respondents and non-respondents had very similar recourse and sick leave durations.

As a cross-sectional study, this survey makes it possible to draw up an inventory of fixtures at a given moment and to establish correlations. On the other hand, it does not make it possible to rule on the causality of the links between professional factors and health indicators.

Somewhat satisfied teachers

According to the results of the survey, overall, teachers face: while nearly 60% recognize that the exercise of the profession is increasingly difficult, 82% are satisfied or very satisfied with their professional experience .

Teachers have a generally positive appreciation of their quality of life: 65% rate it as good or very good compared to 8% as bad or very bad (the remaining part judging it as “neither good nor bad”). They also consider their overall health, physical mobility, concentration and psychological health to be satisfactory. Finally, they very positively evaluate their interpersonal relationships, whether in the private or professional sphere, as well as their living environment: place of residence, access to medical care, transportation.

Satisfaction, however, appears to be more mixed with regard to the financial equilibrium with regard to needs, the possibilities of leisure activities, the quality of sleep and the feeling of security in everyday life.

These general trends must also be nuanced according to certain professional factors, primarily the level of education, the type of institution and seniority. Indeed, and this is an important teaching of the study, behind the apparent homogeneity of the profession, the conditions of practice and the experience of teachers are very diverse. Thus, the daily life of a teacher of a multilevel class in a small mountain school will be quite different from that of a suburban college sports teacher or university teacher-researcher.

The voice, Achilles’ heel of teachers

If teaching does not require a physical condition of marathoner, an organ is nevertheless particularly solicited in class: the vocal cords. For teachers, the voice is an essential work tool and as soon as it malfunctions, all spheres of daily life, both professional and private, are affected. This is highlighted by a specific part of the survey on vocal disorders.

The voice disorders among teachers are far from rare, and above all, they are never trivial. At the time of the survey, 13% of teachers complained of a moderate to severe voice disability, 16% had been unable to teach at least once a year, and 23% had already consulted a professional. of health for a problem of voice.

The more the socio-environmental context was unfavorable (living environment considered unhealthy, an educational institution located in a socially disadvantaged neighborhood), the more frequent the vocal complaint was. In addition, vocal disorders were almost always associated with a lower level of satisfaction with work experience and quality of life.

A job less lonely than it seems

A teacher alone, on a platform in front of a painting, facing his class. This is often the picture that comes to mind when talking about the teaching profession.

Yet the social bonds created by teachers in the professional environment, with pupils, families, colleagues, management staff, etc. are numerous and rich. A large majority of teachers give a positive assessment of these interactions. A study currently being published suggests that social support for work is important for teachers, especially those received from the hierarchy, in order to combat the symptoms of burnout.

Teaching at the end of your career is not easier

In the section of the study devoted to differences in the feelings of teachers by seniority , a decline in well-being, particularly in the workplace, was found among teachers at the end of their career (seniority of 30 or more years). years). And this, even though their working conditions are a priori more favorable, since these teachers are more often involved in high levels of education and facing a favored public.

For example, 77% of teachers at the end of their career considered the exercise of the profession more and more difficult, compared to 20% at the beginning of their career (seniority less than or equal to 5 years). Teachers at the end of their career, who are also the oldest, given the great linearity of professional development in this sector, were also less satisfied with their physical health.

More worrying was the fact that they were also less satisfied with their psychological health and their social ties. In addition, the study noted a point of vigilance for teachers at the beginning of their careers: while they lack experience and need more time to prepare their course, they operate in a less favorable environment both professional than residential.

School violence seen by teachers

The survey made it possible to objectify the phenomenon of school violence from the point of view of teachers , by adopting an inclusive approach to violence. Physical and verbal violence, as well as psychological violence, were taken into account.

During the school year, 17% of teachers had been victims of hostile behavior and 40% had witnessed such acts in their workplace. A detailed analysis, including textual, of the violence reported by the victim teachers highlighted that the only “school” violence (typically, from a secondary school student or from a parent in kindergarten) is not the only one to influence the well-being of teachers. “Internal” violence, inherent in the professional world, is also problematic. This is particularly the case of conflicting relationships with colleagues or tensions with the hierarchy.

Having been a victim of violence was closely associated with adverse health indicators: symptoms of burnout, decreased quality of life, voice disorders and absence from work.

Work stoppages involving more than one in three teachers

Based on the description of the work stoppage episodes experienced by teachers during the school year, a module of the survey made it possible to study teachers’ sick leave as a health indicator.

More than one in three teachers (36%) reported having had at least one day of sick leave since the beginning of the school year. Respiratory diseases and ENT disorders (bronchitis, asthma, influenza, etc.) were the main medical reason for the use of sick leave (37%). However, when one reasoned in number of days of absence and not episodes, it was the affections of the musculoskeletal system (affection of the bones and the joints, traumatic lesion) and the neurological and psychic affections (migraine, ills). headache, fatigue, overwork) who weighed the most, with respectively 27% and 25% of the days of absence. Respiratory diseases and ENT disorders, giving rise to shorter periods of leave, accounted for only 14% of days.

The study of the factors associated with sick leave has highlighted absence-catalytic contexts: high psychological demands at work, insecurity, adverse socio-environmental context.

The rate of recourse to sick leave for teachers appears to be several points higher than that of private sector employees, even though, because of school holidays, the number of weeks worked is lower and some people benefit from a concentrated work schedule. days or less. It is, however, difficult to compare the figures for work absences from one study to another, because perimeters differ (“health reasons” may or may not include maternity, child illness, etc.). ), just like the periods of observation (year, quarter, last week …).

It is interesting to note that the average annual durations of health-related judgments reported to the entire teaching profession or private-sector employees are comparable (approximately 15 to 18 days per worker). This observation illustrates the hypothesis – which remains to be deepened – that employees well covered vis-à-vis sick leave (such as teachers) would be less reluctant to take short stops and that, according to a similar problem to that of giving up care, this remedy would protect them to a certain extent with regard to longer holidays.

Gender inequalities also exist in education

Education is a highly feminized sector. However, there is a clear gradient in which the higher the level of education, the more men are represented. In the survey, this gradient was faithfully reproduced, as were the differences in exercise conditions between men and women in the first, second and higher grades. For example, female teachers were more likely to work part-time and were less often discharged from teaching hours than their male counterparts; these taught more frequently scientific or technical subjects in secondary and higher education, and so on.

Concerning professional well-being, gender differences were less marked, except in secondary school, where female teachers generally seemed a little more satisfied with their professional experience than men.

Finally, while teachers were able to practice in substantially different ways from a statistical point of view, their professional well-being appeared, with few exceptions, comparable.

Some additional comparatives

Other more specific work focused in turn on the differences in professional experience of public and private teachers; high school and high school general and technological; in priority education or not. The results were nuanced.

With respect to the public-private comparison, the perceived private-sector teachers ‘teachers’ professional experience , assessed using five indicators, appeared to be more positive than in the public, and this gap remained even if the work was comparable (in terms of of social origin of pupils for example). In particular, the private sector had a higher job satisfaction rate and better indicators of emotional health and relationship climate.

In the study comparing the feelings of teachers of vocational high school and general and technological high school, the first reported a job satisfaction a little less good than their counterparts in general and technological high school, the differences however remaining overall tenuous .

Finally, an analysis in the course of publication on priority education has shown that the well-being of the teachers who exercise there did not differ fundamentally from the others. On the other hand, the study confirmed differences in profiles and conditions of practice. In particular, priority education teachers were significantly younger and therefore less experienced than other teachers.

Globally healthy and satisfied teachers

In conclusion, the summary of the results of the “Quality of Life of Teachers” survey reveals that they are generally in good health and satisfied with their professional experience, although there are some nuances to be made concerning their widely shared concern about of the future. Moreover, behind its apparent homogeneity, the profession hides a great diversity of content and conditions of practice, which may explain a variability in the well-being of teachers.

All the results open up avenues for promoting the quality of life of teachers, in particular by reinforcing social support at the level of the educational team or improving the psychosocial and environmental framework. In order to deepen these lines, long-term research projects, in the continuity of this survey, are already initiated, in partnership with Inserm or the Ministry of National Education.

Author Bio: Marie-Noël Vercambre-Jacquot is a Epidemiologist at MGEN Foundation for Public Health