Although much lip service is paid to teachers in India and around the world, the reality is that the work is highly demanding. Teaching is one of the jobs with the highest stress. Research has found that 36% to 44% of secondary school teachers in India have at least a moderate level of stress. And this was before the COVID-19 induced pandemic. This is significantly higher than that experienced by people in many other occupations. This is very unfortunate when it comes to the welfare of the students. Here are a few reasons why schools need to care deeply about the mental well-being of teachers.
This must be obvious to anyone who thinks deeply about the problem. However, the fact is not just common sense but has been proven by research. In a study conducted among teachers in Port Blair, it was found that prolonged stress which turned into job burnout was the most common reason for the poor performance of teachers. On the other hand, teachers who had higher performance levels were reported to have less stress related to job and burnout.
Here is another reason why school administrators need to deeply care about the increased stress levels of teachers. Swati Menon in 2019 conducted a study among pre-primary schools in Mumbai. She found that among the factors causing attrition among teachers were health concerns due to increasing workload and decreased productivity. This is rather unfortunate for all stakeholders involved. The school management faces challenges as it has to find replacements. But constant changing of teachers is not good for the students as well as it can negatively impact their social skills and can even disrupt student learning.
But even if schools recognize the need for taking care of the mental health and wellbeing of teachers, what can the administrators do about it? Here are three ways that administrators and school management can help teachers take care of their mental well-being.
1. Reduce the workload of the teachers
The first suggestion is the most obvious. One of the primary reasons why teachers feel high levels of stress leading to burnout is that they are overworked. Schools can think of ways to reduce the daily workload of teachers. These can range from simple solutions – like automating several administrative tasks such as attendance – to more structural solutions like planning out timetables with lesser teaching hours.
2. Reduce classroom size
Managing classrooms with a high number of students is a highly stressful activity. Students often need attention on an individual basis, and it is a daunting task for any teacher to be able to cater to the needs of even 30 students, let alone 50 to 60, as it is in many schools. Even the National Curriculum Framework 2005 states that a teacher to student ratio greater than 1:30 is not desirable in a classroom. Reducing the number of students in each class would make the teacher be able to better serve the needs of each student, as well as maintain his/her mental wellbeing easily.
3. Conduct Workshops and seminars as in-service training programs
Many educationally advanced countries around the world have regular Professional Development Programmes for teachers. These programs provide avenues for the teachers to update their knowledge base and stay relevant, sharpen their skill base and stay competitive, as well as learn ways to improve their state of wellbeing. During a study in 2019, teachers in Australia were provided with four positive psychology strategies to deal with the various stressors they come across in a day. At the end of fifteen days, numerous advantages were observed among teachers who practised the strategies. Teachers reported feeling less stressed, more engaged with teaching which they felt increased the quality of their lessons, they reported spending more one-on-one time with students which improved the quality of student work, and so on. Teachers even reported that the students in their classes were calmer and more cooperative, turning the classroom into a partnership where students took increased ownership of their learning and teachers gave increased voice to the students.
Providing high-quality training sessions are great ways to improve teacher wellbeing. However, this shouldn’t come at the cost of teachers having to sacrifice the limited free time they have. The training programme itself can become a source of stress for the teachers, thus defeating the entire purpose.
The high well-being of teachers is in the interest of everyone concerned – from teachers themselves to students, parents, and even the school management. At the end of the day, happy teachers would result in a happy society. School managements, therefore, need to do their bit in ensuring that teachers can maintain increased levels of mental wellbeing and energy, and thereby contribute to the creation of happy societies!