Teacher’s Wellbeing: A Matter Left Out In The Cold

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The most common subject of any educational debate happens to be the welfare and wellbeing of students. But a matter that is increasingly being absent from the discourse is the wellbeing of those who are responsible for the wellbeing of students, i.e. the teachers. Mahrukh Nadeem tells why it needs to be addressed too.

o discussion or debate on education in Pakistan is complete without an analysis of the condition students in this country of ours are forced to bear with. Students happen to be the key stakeholders of education, but what has been worryingly become common in this debate is the sheer absence or mention of the mental and physical wellbeing of those who shape the lives of our youngsters: teachers. 

Despite being someone who plays a pivotal role in the life of a student, teachers in Pakistan are, unfortunately, hardly considered human beings nowadays. They are machines expected to churn out lesson after lesson, oversee activity after activity, dole out assignments after assignments, and turn students into high achievers one after the other without ever being stressed, falling sick, expressing emotions or feeling anything at all for that matter.Teachers are the torchbearer of our next generation and play a key role in building the future of our children, making their wellbeing as crucial a matter as any for a nation that looks to progress It is imperative to ensure that teachers maintain their mental, physical and emotional health to continue imparting education like it ought to be imparted. 

It Starts With The Teacher

Any thought, idea or plan of making children learned and educated individuals is literally unachievable unless teachers are not in the right frame of mind. A teacher has one of the most challenging, and at the same time, most influential job in the world. Nurturing and shaping young minds, ensuring their physical, emotional and cognitive development, raising capable citizens who can add to the development of the society and the country is a herculean task and one that cannot be performed by people who are under pressure, are physically stressed and emotionally uncertain, as is the case with many teachers in Pakistan. In Pakistan, teachers, especially those in the private sector, are oft the subjects of immense physical, emotional and mental stress and can hardly be termed as being in the best of shape or head space to offer the highest quality of teaching.  If being underpaid and overworked had a face, it would have to be that of a teacher at any private school in Pakistan.One such teacher at a prestigious private school explained the host of duties teachers had to be engaged with.

Any thought, idea or plan of making children learned and educated individuals is literally unachievable unless teachers are not in the right frame of mind

“A teacher’s job is multi-faceted, we not only teach, we manage behaviors, read latest researches to aid our coaching methodologies, plan our lessons according to unconventional learning strategies, create resource material, manage the student’s emotional and psychological challenges, counsel them, guide them and support them, long hours of checking notebooks, marking and writing question papers, replying to emails and engaging with parents is only the tip of the iceberg. The list is infinite, and more often than not, we feel drained from long hectic work hours,” she said. We are keeping the identity of the teacher anonymous for another dilemma such private teachers face, insecurity of job.

High Stress Role 

Because of such demanding roles, increased workload, stress from dealing with challenging students and disorderly classrooms, facing professional conflicts in school environment, a teacher tends to experience increased level of stress and burnout. Recently, a number of cases have been reported where students were mishandled by teachers, leading to severe injuries to students, and in a few cases, even death. Though incidents like these are inexcusable, we must also take into account the reasons teachers are forced into taking such inhumane actions. 

Is it the workload, is it the stress of managing too large a number of kids, is it the no-time-off policy in place at many private schools or is it just a case of putting wrong people in place to do a job not meant for them in the first place? All these queries need to be pondered over and preferably be included in policy decisions. What we really need to understand is that a teacher’s wellbeing is as important as that of a student. When the wellness of teachers is taken for granted, when the stress factors are not dealt with and job burnouts in teachers are not managed, the instability of the mind manifests into physical expressions that are often inhumane, like the cases of some students’ death due to severe beating by teachers. 

 

Burnout: Identification and management

Prolonged levels of stress and emotional fatigue can cause burnout often defined as ‘a state of chronic stress that leads to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion resulting in feeling of inadequacy and lack of accomplishment’. Insomnia, isolation, irritability, forgetfulness, anxiety, depression, lack of interest in teaching, poor attitude towards students and frequent illness are signs of burnout. Identifying these signs as a teacher and /or school administrator may help you seek or offer support and manage issues. To avoid falling prey to burnout, you need to bring balance in your life by setting clear boundaries between your work and personal life and limiting the amount of work you bring home.

When the wellness of teachers is taken for granted, the instability of the mind manifests into physical expressions that are often inhumane

Another way to avoid burnout is by taking some off time daily, a ‘me time’ for yourself to do something alone, weather its reading, writing a journal, watching television, surfing the internet, doing some exercise or yoga. Investing your leisure time in some hobby can also help you take your mind off work. Planning vacations with your family can also help you rejuvenate and unwind. Identifying your daily life stressors and seeking professional help to manage school-related-stress can save you from bitter effects of a burnout. Working towards professional development such as social competence, problem-solving skills, latest teaching strategies can also help you ensure your cognitive wellbeing and serve as effective educators and role models that can contribute to the wellbeing of future generations. 

Ensuring teacher’s wellbeing at Institutional level

Educational institutes must also take some serious steps and prioritize teachers’ wellbeing to ensure a balanced teacher-student relationship and a healthy classroom environment. It is suggested that institutes must device teacher training programs and workplace wellness programs for teachers in particular and all staff members in general.  Providing support services such as stress- and time-management workshops and mental health trainings can help teachers cope better and mitigate the effects of job stress. 

A stress-inducing environment can also push a teacher on verge of losing his or her cool and taking violent steps, thus it is important that the educational institutes have work-friendly environment. Fostering a healthy school environment can serve as a buffer against environmental stressors and can decrease the feeling of agitation, while promoting teachers’ wellbeing at the same time. Administrations must also play a vigilant role in the recruitment process of teachers. Screening of mental health issues at the time of recruitment can help identify the problems, any irrational emotional reactions displayed by applicants must be identified. At times subtle signs during an interview can be observed that may be a window into the applicant’s world of emotional difficulties.

For this reason, it is recommended that the recruitment committee must comprise a psychologist as well as experienced and professional educators. A teacher can make or break a student, thus the process of recruitment should never be rushed.  Pakistani policy makers and implementers must ensure a balanced and nurturing environment at both public and private schools not only for students, but also for the teachers. For students to be successful, we cannot take the wellbeing of teachers for granted. Though a burnout cannot be always avoided, the right support system can help teachers cope with its effects and stay on course to serve the profession of prophets like it ought to be served: with dignity, empathy, affection and understanding.

Mahrukh Nadeem is a clinical psychologist. She can be reached at mahrukh.nadeem@gmail.com