Protecting our teachers

The impact of COVID-19 has been so catastrophic that we will likely only understand all the consequences after decades, if at all. One thing that is clear is that the stress and anxiety of living in and adapting to a pandemic has detrimentally affected the well-being of everyone. This is especially true in the education sector, as the transition to e-learning has been a struggle for everyone. A majority of discussions about well-being in education tend to focus on the students, quite justifiably, as children are not fully cognitively developed and could face lasting impacts from mental health issues. But it is just as important for teachers to have adequate support as they are the backbone of the education system. Hopefully, this Teachers’ Day, we can collectively move closer to a world where teachers are valued and looked after, and viewed as pillars of society.

The Kids Aren’t Alright

It is enough of a challenge getting fully grown adults to confront their emotions, but the task is doubly hard with children and adolescents who are still finding themselves. Children struggling to cope with the pressures of life today are likely to face issues with depression, anxiety and addiction. A failure to address them adequately at this age could embed these issues deep into their psyche, complicating any subsequent treatment in adulthood.

It is also true that students are less likely to be affected by these issues if they are in a supportive environment where they can communicate freely about these issues with their family or peers. Teachers are a vital cog in this support network, but in order to be of benefit to these students, teachers must first safeguard their own mental health. They are just as likely to face anxiety, depression, addiction or any other mental issue as anyone else. A happy and secure teacher is much more capable of being a support pillar to students and, more importantly, is more likely to provide a safe and nurturing learning environment.

Neither are the adults

The wellbeing of teachers has been an issue long before the pandemic. It would be impossible to proceed further without acknowledging the woeful salaries that teachers receive across the world. Money is not a guarantee of wellbeing but the lack of it is documented to have detrimental affects on mental health – a worry about your ability to pay vital expenses like bills and rent can be hard to shake off. Educational infrastructure is also woeful, as many schools do not have the training, resources or manpower to adequately prepare teachers to do their job.

Even if these issues can be ironed out, there are some stressors for teachers that have no easy fixes or are unavoidable altogether. Effectively surrogate parents in some limited capacity to all their students, it is very easy for teachers to overextend themselves emotionally. They take on not just their own burdens, but those of all their students. They will often need help dealing with the stress of particularly troublesome students or tragic losses of life.

A Spanner in the works

Though life before the pandemic was hard enough for teachers, the last one and a half years has brough a host of new challenges and stressors. The transition from physical classrooms to virtual one has been a struggle for everyone, but as it is their responsibility to conduct the class, the responsibility falls primarily on teachers. Some issues are more basic and solvable like unfamiliarity with computers or the removal of traditional teaching aids like blackboards. But other issues like the lack of personal, face-to-face engagement with students, or removal of organic and non-functional interactions like water-cooler conversations are endemic to online mediums and cannot be avoided.

The last few years have also seen major disruptions in how teachers interact with other stakeholders in the education system like governments and school boards. The National Education Policy, 2020 has completely revised the paradigm of education, changing class structures and introducing new pedagogies. Though this a welcome change, there is a 3 year timeline which schools have to become compliant. This would be difficult enough a task to achieve in the best of times, let alone a global pandemic and becoming NEP compliant is a big stressor.. It is vital to recognise the realities of the present – the fate of board exams has been a looming uncertainty weighing on the minds of many teachers and students. Many teachers are likely to shield their students from this uncertainty by showing a facade of confidence and certainty, and burden themselves further.

Everyday Heroes

If we look back to the beginnings of civilisation and even before – child rearing was one of the essential activities of a tribe or community as it was a way to preserve its health and future. This is just as true now as it has ever been, but as a society we have lost sight of the importance of teachers. They frequently give much of themselves into the job but face scant reward or support in doing so aside from the pleasure of seeing students blossom. In the wake of the pandemic, there have been ongoing discussions on ‘essential workers’ and how we treat them as a society. Despite acknowledging their contributions as essential they are generally under-payed and overworked, and often struggle to get by in life. Moving forward it is vital that we recognise the contributions of people like nurses and teachers, and give them all the support they need.