“My life has become toxic. It’s worse than the corporate job that I had quit to become a teacher. Planning for lessons into the wee hours of the night, correction work, never-ending question paper preparation…the unhealthy work environment is taking a toll on me. The idea was to bring my real-life experience to transform teaching in the classroom, strike a good work-life balance and spend quality time with my kids,” she said, “But the reality is far from this. The toxicity that I was experiencing at school has started creeping into my home.”
“Why would you want to leave what is clearly your calling?” This was my question to a livewire software engineer-turned teacher, whom I have gotten to know well at work.
Welcome to the reality of the Indian education system. In recent research published in the International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health, it was found that 74% of educators are experiencing occupational stress and 86% of the teachers have professional burnout. The obvious but alarming fact is that this has a direct impact on the children.
The struggle to manage various professional obligations and challenges, students’ disruptive behavior, and a working environment where responsibility and authority are not shared equally by colleagues are among the top reasons why teachers face burnout. Even the best teachers, the cream of the crop, experience symptoms of burnout. There are days when the passion ebbs and doesn’t flow. The fact that school managements also want teachers to take on additional administrative duties without extra pay takes out any energy left over.
Fatigued and disinterested teachers directly translate into poor education for our children in that classroom. These are the individuals we trust to shape the thought process of our children and instill a love of learning. A lot of times, the class teacher is trusted more than the parents by the child. A teacher’s life is multifaceted and goes beyond the classroom. Being the creative head of events, preparing for parent interactions, being a counselor for the children under her care, or peer classroom observation and feedback are just some of the tasks on her to-do list.
How can we humanly expect any teacher to share the joy for learning or notice more than what is absolutely required to help a child when they themselves are stressed out to do anything but complete the syllabus? If the teacher has school management that looks into their well-being, then the results are evident in the success and growth of the school. But if you are a victim of your circumstances and cannot change your game plan, then preventing burnout is the only way out.
The key is to find one’s way out of this rut. That’s exactly what smart teachers do. There is a method to this madness. Management support, regular training, well-researched and structured lesson plans are just some elements that help teachers use their time productively and thereby avoid burnout.
After having spoken, worked and interacted with several teachers and schools for over a decade, here are some recommendations that we have gathered from them, that one can leverage to carve out a pool of calmness around you and regain your composure and peace of mind in the madness.
Take an hour out on the weekend and plan meticulously for the week ahead. This gives one time to get your resources ready, preempt roadblocks and finding solutions in advance.
Create a ‘circle of trust’ that has people you trust. This can be at home or work. Advice and mentorship from seniors, well-wishers will help you stay on the growth trajectory.
Take the effort to learn, if not master, some skills that you need at your workspace. Don’t procrastinate. The newfound confidence that you will get knowing that when the task comes your way, you will be ready, will be priceless.
Enter contests or awards that help you garner recognition. Encourage your school management to recognise the achievements of teachers. This goes a long way in restoring joy in the profession for the teachers.
Learn to say ‘No’
You only have so much time and energy to give. You need to take time to replenish your energy, so be very selective about who you give your time to. Pace yourself. Learn to say ‘No’ to things when you have too much on your plate. To be sure, teachers can’t do it alone. School management has a pivotal role to play in ensuring that teachers are able to give their best.
Healthy Work Environment
Progressive school leaders create an environment that lets teachers have a voice, and build a teacher community. A weekly circle time where the management takes the conscious decision to hear you out on what’s working in the classroom, what needs to change, what’s the support required to make you do your job better is needed to avoid burnout. Quit the toxic work culture, not the profession. Treat the problem, not the symptom. Where you choose to work should be in your hands.
Seek feedback to course-correct
Management that steps up to support their teachers by freeing up their time to invest in learning and up-skilling via regular training programmes and better lesson plans often have happier teachers. A charged teacher’s mind is constantly racing to figure out what she can do next to make the classroom experience better. Glitches experienced while facilitating the class needs to be remedied. Receiving constructive feedback from mentors helps them up my game and channelises their thoughts in the right direction.
Another stakeholder who has the potential to bring about a huge change is the parent. When customers (parents) demand change, the school/teachers will have to listen. The collective power of parents has a huge role to play in how schools treat teachers and the quality of education they can provide.
The silver lining is that stakeholders in schools now acknowledge the symbiotic relationship between the school’s success and its teachers. This single step towards recognising the epidemic has moved mountains. Bold teachers everywhere are paving the path, breaking the shackles and unburdening themselves so that they can give their all in the classroom to those innocent souls who deserve nothing but the best. Take charge of your life and do the same.
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