There can be no denying that teachers play an integral role in our society, shaping young minds and impacting one generation after the next. As of 2021, 72% of education staff (rising to 84% when it came to senior leadership staff) reported feeling stressed at work – while 77% admitted to having experienced poor mental health as a result of their work (Mental Health and Wellbeing Support for Teachers, 2023). These figures are clearly concerning, and one must consider how these statistics truly reflect the current educational system.
Simply put, teaching can be an extremely stressful profession. Not only are teachers responsible for the academic development and performance of students, but also for their social, emotional, nutritional and physical development as well. Often, teachers can have as many as thirty pupils relying upon their support at any one time. Each student and their parents bring different issues, be it special educational needs, issues with friends, home life or academic performance – it’s no wonder that our teachers are finding themselves stretched so thin! There is a wide body of research in support of these findings; according to the National Foundation for Educational Research, teachers endure much higher levels of job stress than other professionals. With student numbers rising and the number of teachers falling, it is easy to understand why the report found that one in five teachers are stressed about their job most or all of the time. Although the average teacher’s working hours are similar to that of other professions, working intensively over fewer weeks has been found to be responsible for a poorer work-life balance and higher stress levels overall.
Why we Should Prioritise Teacher Wellbeing
We need to prioritise teacher wellbeing because it can impact social and emotional learning (SEL) within the classroom. According to Kimberly Shonert-Reichl, students’ academic achievement and behaviour both suffer when teachers are unable to effectively manage the social and emotional demands of the role. She asks, if we cannot fully understand the social-emotional wellbeing of teachers and how they can influence student SEL, how could we ever be fully equipped to promote effective SEL within the classroom? Over the last decade, an extensive body of research has shown that teachers with strong social and emotional skills are the ones that are able to form the most proactive student-teacher relationships. The presence of these relationships hold the key when it comes to ensuring the healthy development of students throughout their time in school, influencing their academic performance, social functioning and motivation. In comparison, studies have shown that a negative student-teacher relationship can lead to poor academic performance, disorderly classroom behaviour and in more severe cases the onset of psychological disorders. In 2009, Maurice Elias believed that teachers who have confidence in their own emotional skills would be better equipped to understand their students emotions, and subsequently their own role in their behaviour. When a teacher is able to recognise the emotional state of their students, they can more efficiently address and respond to their needs – developing a stronger rapport based upon trust and respect. Within the teaching profession, higher levels of self-efficacy and empathy have been attributed to success within the classroom. In 2007, Tettegah and Anderson defined teacher empathy as ‘the ability to express concern and take the perspective of the student’. Teachers possessing high levels of empathy serve as role models for their students, promoting a positive learning environment based upon support and positive interaction. Not only can an empathetic teacher influence a child’s self-efficacy and motivation to learn, they can also influence a child’s moral compass. Empathetic teachers display high moral standards, efficiently communicating with their students both socially and emotionally. As such, an empathetic teacher plays a key role in encouraging their pupils to form similar relationships with those around them. On the other hand, teaching self-efficacy was defined by Friedman in 2003 as, ‘task-specific self-beliefs concerning teaching performance.’ Higher levels of teacher self-efficacy were found to be positively related to a variety of teaching behaviours, including teaching style and performance, as well as class management and control over the teaching-learning process. In contrast, lower levels of teacher self-efficacy have been attributed to a range of emotional issues concerning burnout, self-regulation, stress-management, job-satisfaction and overall well-being. Furthermore, teacher self-efficacy has also been attributed to enhanced student performance. Teachers with high levels of self-efficacy have been found to promote higher academic achievement within the classroom and enhance both student and teacher motivation, whilst being more equipped to handle misbehaviour in a proactive way and create an inclusive atmosphere for students with learning disabilities.
How Can Ensure the Emotional Wellbeing of Teachers?
It is evident that the social and emotional well-being of teachers is incredibly influential upon students – but how then, can we ensure the well-being of teachers? There can be no denying that more work needs to be done in the way of improving and maintaining the overall wellbeing of teaching staff throughout the UK and Ireland. In 2022, a survey by the Education Support service was administered to over 3,000 members of education staff. The survey found that overall wellbeing in the teaching sector is poor and has steadily, but consistently, been on the decline for the past several years. The statistics showed that 78% of all teaching staff have experienced work related anxieties, with 78% of school teachers admitting to feeling stressed, rising to 89% of all senior leaders, and again to 95% in the case of head teachers. The survey also indicates a 9% rise in burnout symptoms amongst teachers, up to 36%, and a 6% rise in symptoms of insomnia, up to 51%. Additionally, results of this survey also indicate significant feelings of loneliness and isolation across the profession, with education staff found to be feeling twice as lonely at work compared to the national population of England. These findings indicate that teachers, above other professions, report the highest work-related stress levels – a staunch indicator of the changes that need to made.
So, what are the main issues? Although difficult to pinpoint precisely, there are a number of fathomable reasons that would suggest the recent decline in teacher wellbeing. Firstly, we must consider the fallout of the pandemic. COVID-19 was an unprecedented disruption to everyday life. Teachers became frontline providers in the blink of an eye, with many experiencing emotional exhaustion and lower levels of job satisfaction as a result. In 2021, a sociocultural study sought to establish the true impact of the pandemic from an educators’ perspective. The study highlighted the difficulty experienced by teachers due to the lack of physical contact with their colleagues and pupils. The absence of in-person interaction left many teachers feeling isolated and disconnected from their peers, whilst making it more difficult to form bonds with their pupils. Furthermore, the speed at which teaching staff were switched from an in-person to an online learning approach left staff feeling unprepared, anxious and out of their depth. One in four teachers told the NASUWT union that they had seen a doctor as a result of the impact on their mental health, with many undergoing counselling or taking antidepressants.
How Does Workload influence Teacher Wellbeing?
Another key factor influencing teacher wellbeing is the increase in workload. In 2022, the British and Irish Group of Teacher Unions issued a statement calling for policy
There are however, several support services available to those within the education sector that may find themselves struggling. Education Support is a UK-based charity, dedicated solely to supporting the mental health of teachers and education staff. Education Support offer many resources to teaching staff and schools in the hopes of improving wellbeing across the profession, including a School and FE Leaders Service, an Employee Assistance Program and a free helpline offering immediate and confidential support, advice and counselling to educators all over the UK. For teachers struggling with financial concerns, organisations such as the Education Support Partnership help to support hundreds of education workers every year with emergency grants to help with housing costs and essential bills. Additionally, organisations such as Get Into Teaching also offer free advice and support to those considering a career in teaching. Hosting online and in-person events, providing advice on matters such as training and funding, and offering one one-on-one support, Get Into Teaching enables those considering a teaching career to find their feet and establish whether or not education is the right career path for them. On September 1st, 2023, Oide, a new support service for teachers and educational leaders in the Republic of Ireland was launched, funded by The Department of Education. Oide is made up of four pre-existing support services, known as the Centre for School Leadership (CSL), the Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT), the National Induction Program for Teachers (NIPT) and the professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST). Oide provide support and information specifically tailored to primary and secondary teachers, as well as a separate are dedicated to supporting those in school leadership roles, covering a wide variety of subjects areas. Furthermore, The Irish National Teachers’ Organization (INTO) is the largest teachers trade union in Ireland, representing 45,159 primary level teachers in the Republic of Ireland, and 7,196 primary and post-primary level teachers in Northern Ireland, with a total membership of 52,352 as of September 2023. The INTO offer professional protection, advice in professional matters and reliable information on where teachers can seek support for personal matters. INTO can additionally offer financial support in a variety of circumstances, as well as participation in varying financial schemes and specially negotiated memberships. While it is clear that more work needs to be done to improve the overall wellbeing of teachers, organisations such as these are certainly pushing things in the right direction.
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