Invest in teachers’ mental wellbeing to enhance performance

Work stress manifested in feelings of disillusionment, failure and loss of self-esteem is as common to educators as drought is to the Sahara. Shockingly, addressing or even discussing the mental and emotional well-being of teachers is never up the agenda.

According to Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018, a document prepared by Education Support Partnership—a UK charity providing mental health and wellbeing support services to all educators— 76 per cent of the 1,502 respondents experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work, 57 per cent considered leaving the profession in the last two years due to health pressures and 47 per cent experienced depression, anxiety or panic attacks due to work.

Earlier in 2017, Educator Quality of Work Life Survey, a poll administered to almost 5,000 teachers and school staff across America, revealed that 61 per cent of educators experience work stress and 58 per cent suffer poor mental health. While these studies were conducted in the UK and America, same studies in Rwanda would not produce different results.

A combination of administrative, classroom and co-curricular responsibilities in a teacher’s day-to-day life can leave any teacher feeling emotionally and physically spent. A few educators are able to pinpoint issues related to mental health. However, a great majority dismiss it as fatigue and dull it with pain killers. According to the World Health Organization, poor mental health holds symptoms such as feeling very sad or withdrawn, overwhelming fear, severe out-of-control behaviour that can hurt oneself or others, poor appetite, throwing up, extreme difficulty concentrating or severe mood swings. When you experience these— not in isolation—you may be experiencing high levels of stress.

The need for clear measures that protect the wellbeing and mental health of all educators cannot be any more urgent. The first thing to do when you notice such symptoms is to define the stressors. As with dealing with any problem, identifying it is a necessary first step. Try writing a list of aspects of your busy life, your job, your students, your boss, your family and other avenues where you are feeling stressed. While on it, consider the things you have some control over and those that are beyond your control. Prioritise your list with the biggest issues at the top and define ways to go about them.

Another thing worth considering is being realistic about our goals. Even when they are comprised of daily to-do lists or weekly goals of what to get done, seeing your workload is one step closer to getting through it. You will feel more success as you knock items off your list, and don’t worry about the things remaining if they can be easily carried over to the next list, or not done at all. This includes acknowledging when things that didn’t get done weren’t really under your control.

It is also important to seek out your colleagues. It’s highly unlikely you are the only one in your environment dealing with job-related stress. Teachers and school authorities need to encourage a dialogue among workers about stress management. The main objective should be for teachers to dialogue together to decide themselves how hard to work. Sharing of ideas, tips and tricks are a great means to feeling connected to colleagues too.

All in all, we can grow to resent teaching if it sucks the life out of us. To be at your sharpest, you may need to take a step back and assess yourself and your teaching. School administrators should create supportive environments that afford teachers the opportunity to share their frustrations freely.

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