Teachers are the cornerstone of schools. Not only are they educators, but they also look after the welfare of students and take on many responsibilities, such as after-school clubs. In our previous article, we talked about managing the mental health of students. However, not much is said for teachers’ mental health. Teachers face many stressors in their career and their mental health is not talked about more often. In the second part of our two-part series on mental health and education, we discuss the factors affecting educator’s mental health and methods to cope.
Being a teacher consists not only of being an educator. It means also handling the welfare of students, which could mean juggling multiple classes. Depending on schools, classes can have between 15 to 30 students. In order to truly understand someone, it can take months getting to know them. For teachers, this means understanding the different learning abilities and capacities of a student. This could mean spending extra time to assess a student’s strengths and weaknesses, individual consultations and allowing time for them to warm up to you. Now, multiply that by a few classes. Teachers only have a limited amount of time in classes to teach their materials, and it is difficult to give an equal amount of attention to each student. On top of that, they may also be in charge of school clubs or organising school events. This large workload can result in burnout which is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. A survey by Milieu Insight found that 74% of teachers have experienced burnout. Burnout will occur when teachers feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
Teaching is a career that requires heavy time investment and often results in poor work-life balance. Because of the heavy workload, teachers often have to bring their work home, which can blur the line between work and personal time. The line has also become more blurred, as it has become more prevalent for students to use messaging apps to consult their teachers. This benefits students, as they have a more convenient way of asking questions. However, it is a double-edged sword for teachers because even though it allows them to address students’ concerns anytime of the day, it also disrupts their work-life balance if they have to do so after work hours. There are also many other factors, such as rising expectations from parents and dealing with hard students or colleagues. Teachers are not only just educators, but they are an immediate presence in students’ life. Sometimes the pressure to always have it together can put a lot of stress on them.
We cannot ignore the huge impact covid had on teachers’ mental well-being. Many teachers experienced more stress and higher anxiety from having to adapt quickly to convert physical lessons to online lessons. Few schools had sufficient time to train teachers on the methods of online learning. This left many teachers scrambling to engage students. In some poorer schools, students had their education suspended, leaving teachers with no income. After reading the above, you should have a better grasp of the problems teachers encounter. Perhaps you are a student, a school staff or your loved one is a teacher… Here are some ways to help from multiple perspectives.
School systems are the most vital in addressing the mental health of teachers. There must first be a shift in focus to prioritise the mental health of teachers to before impact can be made. Some ways school systems could improve teachers’ mental health could be stronger support systems, including counsellors that specialise in educators to give them an outlet for their stress. It could also mean sending teachers for more mental well-being workshops. For example, ReachOut is an Australian Mental Health Organisation that provide resources for teachers well-being. Perhaps schools can engage such organisations for workshops or consult them on ways to improve the mental well-being of teachers. Other ways include assigning workload according to abilities. This comprises assessing teachers on their strengths and weaknesses. Followed by assigning different class numbers according to their abilities. Having an environment that supports the mental well-being of teachers can help to change the culture of overwork amongst teachers and make drastic improvements in educators mental health.
Perhaps you are a parent. Understandably, you worry about your child’s grades and well-being in school. However, it is important to also understand teachers are not perfect. Don’t place too much expectations on teachers, there is only so much they can do with the limited time spent with your child. The best way would be to find time to share and communicate with the teacher on their abilities to help your child and also what you can do as a parent for your child. Additionally, an encouraging note/ text goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to reach out to teachers and support them.
As a student, the most important thing would be studies. Often, students may forget that teachers have a life outside of school. A way students can support teachers is to respect their boundaries. Consult them during school hours and don’t message them at ungodly hours! Teachers spend a lot of effort and hours preparing class materials, so do your best to pay attention in class and shush the noisy/ disruptive students. Encouraging your teachers is a good way too. Write them a note or thank them for their time after consulting them. Many teachers share they feel appreciative when students give them feedback during their class (even if it’s negative) as it shows that students are paying attention and their effort pays off.
Maybe you are a teacher reading this article! Turn to support systems, it can be in school or outside. Making sure you have an excellent support system is very vital. They can be people to vent to or to support you in difficult times, such as family, friends, colleagues or therapists. Be less hard on yourself. Though teachers are often placed on pedestals and seen as role models, people often forget they are human too. It is fine to make mistakes, just move on and learn from them. Lastly, remember to prioritise your mental health over work. Work is important, but taking care of yourself deserves more priority. Don’t be afraid to decline more responsibility or take a day off if you need to.