Did you know that 84% of teachers experience mental health issues? Everything from stress and anxiety to depression, the mental health struggles of the teaching profession are at their highest ever. And that was before we were hit by a global pandemic that fundamentally changed how their jobs worked! The latest data shows that at the tail end of 2020 there was a 350% increase in mental health support requests from stressed-out teaching staff who had simply reached their breaking point. But now that many classrooms have started to transition away from Zoom and back to face-to-face teaching, what does the new landscape look like, and what can schools be doing to care for their stressed-out teaching staff’s mental health?
The Challenges Of Mixed Learning
Teaching in a classroom setting has always been one of the higher-stress fields, and while it was far from perfect, there was a sort of rhythm and balance. The pandemic changed that, and moved learning online. This was an enormous adjustment for teachers, but superheroes that they are, they adapted to the new medium and continued teaching as best they could. But now we’re in another transitionary period, with some schools still online, some in person, and some providing a mixed learning option so that vulnerable children can still engage in lessons.
Mixed learning comes with a whole host of new challenges for everyone involved, but there’s no denying that teachers are bearing the brunt of that stress. In our work with teachers, here are just a few of the challenges we’ve see them facing:
- Planning single lessons at least twice – once for in-person teaching and one for online teaching.
- Planning & pre-recording teaching sessions for students doing online learning.
- A massive increase in working hours, with no extra pay or support.
- Managing ‘bubbles’ within schools and monitoring social interactions to keep students safe.
- Switching between teaching methods, especially if there is a positive case and both teachers and students need to isolate.
- Struggling to effectively teach students who are disengaged, stressed, or struggling with their own mental health issues, particularly if they are home learning.
- A massive surge in parents’ complaints – often about things they have absolutely no control over.
- Learning, understanding and implementing new testing standards (when they were never expected to administer exams before).
And somehow, in amongst all of that, they need to find time to take care of their own mental health as well. Teacher mental health has never been the best out there, and pre-covid 84% of teaching staff admitted that their workplace had a significant impact on their mental health. Now, that number is much, much higher, and it’s only going to keep climbing, especially in the next month.
New Testing Standards
You’ve probably seen by now that the way students in England will be tested this year has been changed to account for over a year of disrupted and online learning and the logistical challenges of social distancing. Rather than sitting formal exams that cover their subjects broadly, students will receive grades awarded and determined by their teachers, and only be assessed on what they have been directly taught. From the student’s point of view this is a great thing, and a much fairer way to do exams given the stresses of the last 16 months.
But for teachers, this is yet more bad news. Because on top of their already heavy workloads, they now have to assess the performance of every student, administer questions provided by exam boards, gather evidence, decide grades, and then submit them to exam boards by the 18th of June. And while there has been guidance released to help with this process, it has been inconsistent, contradictory and it doesn’t ease the extra burden. The Government have hailed the idea as ‘a way to bring joy back into the classroom’, but teachers on the ground have a very different view. Many have expressed fears of burnout and chronic exhaustion, saying that ‘now we’re second guessing ourselves. We’re all marking through weekends and late at night. It’s added to the stress of knowing how important it is to get the marking right. And the quality assurance and appeal process will come down on us if we get it wrong.’ Which only creates more stress! One teacher even told a journalist that she felt physically sick every time she saw a new document from an exam board. So while the new system might be good for students, it’s wreaking havoc on teachers already fragile mental health.
Mental Health Matters Now More Than Ever
And we don’t just mean for the teachers. The stress the pandemic and all of the changes in education have put on youth mental health have been staggering, and now more students than ever are dealing with mental health problems. This causes all sorts of struggles, including a general plummet in performance at school. In the past, school has been seen as a safety net to catch problems with students that might not be seen anywhere else – but while that is a wonderful thing, teachers are just not equipped to deal with it on this level. In fact, most teachers aren’t qualified to deal with it at all. Mental health support is not taught as part of teacher training as standard – schools have to pay out of their own pocket, and take action independently to provide that. And in such tough economic times, many aren’t taking that step.
The knock-on effect of this is that teachers feel as though they have to be supports for these troubled children with no experience or training. And that’s just another layer added to the immense amount of stress teachers are already under, so really it’s no surprise that teachers are buckling under the strain. And with no support from their employers, they are often left to ‘fend for themselves’. But teachers are the ones educating the next generation – they are frontline workers, and they need our support just as much as the NHS right now, and in the future.
What Can Be Done?
Ultimately the extra strain of the pandemic will only go away when the pandemic does, so right now the best course of action is for schools to start providing proactive mental health support for their teachers. That’s everything from ensuring workloads are reasonable and negotiated, to providing access to mental health therapies that will help staff cope with the excessive demands of their work during this difficult period, and beyond. Only if schools accept at their highest level that teachers need more mental health support – and then provide that – can we start to improve the conditions of the teaching profession.
At The Holistic Healthcare Group, we work closely with schools to design mental health strategies not only for students, but for the teaching staff as well. Our mental health experts can help you understand the needs of your teachers, and design a tailored strategy to support them in a real, effective and measurable way. We provide a range of options, from therapies delivered on-site or online, to the MELP app, which gives teachers access to supports, tools and techniques in the comfort of their own home. We then train teachers in implementing the techniques in an easy, manageable way, so that they can deliver higher-quality teaching and use the techniques themselves, without it being another big job on the list. This kind of support won’t solve the pandemic problems, but it can help teaching staff feel supported, and start learning how to manage their mental health problems in a positive way. If you would like to find out more, just get in touch with the team today.