Teachers are tightrope walkers, they simultaneously balance academic agendas and student wellbeing

This paper has three parts. First, findings from recent survey research show how school teachers balance performance improvement agendas and student wellbeing concerns. Second, in response to these survey findings, this paper describes the startup initiative of the Teachers of Australia social media campaign, which is designed to champion the teaching profession. Third, preliminary interview data from the Teachers of Australia project is presented to show how teachers balance academic agendas and student wellbeing.

Mixed methods survey research conducted among 177 primary and secondary school teachers revealed that although teachers value student well-being initiatives, they are experiencing very real tensions dealing with student mental health concerns and academic performance targets. One teacher described this tension to be like “tightrope walking between two pitching ships in storm.” Survey findings also revealedthat teachers often take it upon themselves “check in” with students,prioritisingwellbeing to support academic performance, showing that they play a critical role in helping students strike a balance between these competing imperatives. Yet, currentassessment drivenfederal reform initiativeswherestandardiseddata is published have resulted in a name-and-shame comparison culture, which hascontributed to an erosion of respect for the profession.With mental health concerns on the rise amongst young people in Australia, the role of the teacher has never been so important.Teachers are a critical contact point for young people, and their work needs to be appreciated. In response to these survey findings, the University of the Sunshine Coast launched a social media campaign to champion the great work that teachers do. By putting faces and stories to the profession, this campaign aims to generate a groundswell of good news that answers the teacher-blame that dominates mainstream press. Additionally, using phenomenological and narrative inquiry methods, we are interviewing teachers to listen to their experiences and stories of how they strike the balance between academics and wellbeing. Findings from qualitative data analysis point to vital social, emotional and cultural competencies needed to strike this balance well.