The remarkable contribution teachers have made during the last two years indeed calls for a word of praise. I look back to my own days in the early seventies, when I enjoyed walking to the school every morning. Teaching was a stress-free job and those who wanted to lead their life in a calm and quiet manner and with a certain passion joined this profession. It was a fondly sought-after job for women who had the ordeal of managing the family too. Over the years, with increasing commercialisation of education ushering competition among schools, with unlimited consumerism promoting branding of schools with innumerable extracurricular activities and focus on exemplary achievements with or without adequate competencies, this profession has gathered a lot of stress. In the current scenario, the types and the quantum of stress being faced by the teaching community is indeed a matter of emerging concern.
Here are a few challenges faced by them:
1. Overload of work
The amount of teaching periods allotted in several schools is anywhere between 80 to 90 percent of the total number of periods per week. This indeed is unmanageable for teachers if at all they must be creative, innovative and interactive with the learners in the classroom. They are hardly left with any time to prepare for their classes in a befitting manner, especially with the increasing demand for interactive, experiential classrooms with interventional assessment. They cannot emotionally and intellectually sustain for the entire period of their work time. Further, this schedule saps their energy for effective performance equitably over the entire day. This is a significant cause of performance stress. There is a need to address the issue in a compassionate manner.
2. The enormous size of classrooms
The size of the classrooms has been increasing decade after decade. In the seventies, the size of the classroom moved to a maximum of forty students which was considered inappropriate. Now, one can easily see schools having classrooms beyond sixty, some of them sporting eighty to ninety students. The classrooms being totally unmanageable, teachers face a lot of emotional stress in dealing with all learners, especially with the demand for differentiated learning. While all theories of brain sciences advocate the fact that each learner is unique and hence needs to be addressed independently, the numbers in classrooms in many schools are total antithesis to a definition of an effective classroom. While the performance of the teachers could indeed become unacceptable, there is no one addressing to challenge the issue of the increasing classroom. With a huge financial constraint in running the schools, and in some cases edupreneurs with a complete business marketing strategy look for numbers in the classroom like the number of units of the products sold in a market. Optimisations of the classroom strength is indeed a matter of concern.
3. The parental expectations
There has been a notable change in the attitude of the parents about schooling in the last couple of decades. The parents are keen in ensuring the readiness of their wards to face all kinds of competition in the post-school level and hence consider the schools as preparatory platforms for the learners for this exercise. In this pursuit, the lofty objectives of the process of education are totally marginalised and the curricular objectives are redrafted to suit the aspirations of the parents, lest the strength of the school may suffer. Though the parental expectations are reasonable keeping in view the social dynamics, the mismatch between their current objectives and the vision/mission of education puts the teachers under stress. In trying to meet both the objectives, it indeed becomes a see-saw game for teachers to manage both the objectives. The schools are not able to deal with the misplaced objectives of parents in several cases. Parental expectations on quality of teaching, quantum of teaching, tools of pedagogy, the tangible outcomes of their ward’s learning, their urge to highlight performance of their own wards before their peers puts an extremely high demand on the performance and delivery processes of teachers adding to their other stress.
4. Curricular dynamics
The changing curricular architecture is in a fast mode in the last few decades, thanks to the explosion of knowledge and its innumerable pathways impacting the classical modes of teaching-learning. With unlimited and sometimes irrelevant educational inputs into the markets, there is an extreme pressure on the teaching community to stay current and relevant. With learners’ gate crashing into the domains of knowledge in an informal manner through search engines, the speed and the flow of knowledge in the classrooms is causing a psychological pressure on the teachers. The external pressure to complete the syllabi in each schedule blending with an entire universe of knowledge operating externally makes even the most competent and performing teachers with a latent stress. The frequent changes to the framework of knowledge with convergence and divergence happening concurrently and the demands for inter-disciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches to its delivery systems are new concerns for the teachers to manage. Questions relating to relevance of teachers in the current situations on social platforms are impacting the fraternity with a sense of self-doubt.
5. Changing trends in pedagogy
The pedagogical tools and resources have been changing in a competitive productive society with many edupreneurs justifying their role as the architects of future learning. The frequent changes in content delivery conceived, articulated and presented by many publishers through their textual content curtails the freedom of practices in the classrooms by the teachers instead of facilitating. Further the inter-school competition to showcase their pedagogies as superiors to others with adequate proof and sometimes with a simple stamp of an international logo, forces others to fall in line. Thus, superimposed pedagogical models disrupt the natural and classical models, however old they are. The need for individualisation of the curriculum, the need to address differentiated pedagogy, the focus on experiential and joyful learning, edifying pedagogies on a few social demands is sending alarm signals among teachers about their ability to cope and manage. The issues relating to inclusive classrooms, the challenges of blended learning and hybrid learning, the design thinking in pedagogies to enable self-learning and self-directed learning are issues teachers find difficult to cope with. The psychological stress experienced by the teachers is anybody’s guess.
6. Student-teacher relationship
The student-teacher relationship has become a matter of public debate over the years. The demand for ‘freedom to learn’ has been misinterpreted at several levels to let loose unacceptable behaviour inside the classrooms sometimes triggered by external sources rather than the student’s own. The teachers are forced oftentimes to stand mute witnesses to things that happen. Ideological and political conflicts are shaped and fine tuned to reflect classroom behavior, and teachers find it difficult to cope with such situations and just develop an internal stress often cursing themselves. The level of counselling that can be done in classrooms appears limited and, in many cases, not acceptable to the parents. Emotional tantrums, aggressive behaviour, violence is on the increase and teachers who intervene often become victims to some of these situations and hence find it convenient to stay away. Thus, the student-teacher relationship is a major concern in stress management.
7. Parent-Teacher relationship
The increasing consumerist attitude in social dynamics has impacted the expectations of the parents from the institutions where they send their wards for learning. From a scenario where the respectability of the teachers was immense, we have moved to a situation where teachers are considered as employees of organisations. While this perception cannot be certainly ignored in the modern social structure, it is important to realise that the social contribution by the teaching community in shaping and building the younger generation is indeed one of responsibility. Parent-teacher relationships in several places have become a matter of continuous stress to the school managers and teachers. There is no denial of the fact that schools are public institutions where views, opinions and concerns of the people need to be listened to and addressed. It is equally important that teaching is a professional approach, and hence cannot be and should not be influenced by everyone. Schools need to address this concern and build platforms for strong, mutually supportive and respectable relationships between them.
8. Insecurity in jobs
In many private schools, the job of a teacher is insecure. Though rules and regulations do exist, as proposed by the governing agencies, they are scarcely followed. The sense of insecurity in their jobs even after a period of continuous service in the same institution keeps the teachers always under stress. Their inability to seek clarification about their service conditions, the benefits if any that could accrue consequent to continuous services are still being considered as a challenge to the administration. The absence of a level playing field, the authoritative and autocratic way of leadership in schools puts several teachers under stress. This has a significant impact on the way they work, and they engage in their classrooms. In several institutions irregular payments of salaries, belated payments, holding of certificates and the like creates a fear of psychosis among the teachers.
9. Emerging technologies
The emerging technologies are indeed a big challenge to the teaching community. The uncertainty about the way these technologies would impact the different aspects of learning, the way they might liberate the learning stress or re-interpret the process of learning appears to be causing stress. The impact of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, the virtual reality, the virtual classrooms, the virtual laboratories and new online methods of assessments, anytime- anywhere learning strategies are indeed creating a sense of fear and insecurity among the learning community. The fear is on how their role in classrooms might change over a period and how soon they must pick up learning these techniques. As such, they find inadequate sources and resources even if they are willing to learn. Further, these technologies are causing a divide between haves and have nots in the institutional universe.
10. Learning stress
Not of least importance is the learning stress experienced by the teachers at their own level. The kind and pressure of work managed by them even outside their timetable is too large making many leave the institution at delayed hours. Learning beyond this time is both physically and emotionally not viable. There are also no support systems or funding systems to help them to acquire these resources and inputs as many managements are unwilling to spend on their teachers for reasons best known to them. The kind of training programs both online and offline are limited. They are often conducted by agencies as ceremonies to be completed for their statistical data. The productive outcome of such training and their follow up are not adequate. The suggestion of any further training itself causes stress to some teachers who are otherwise dissatisfied with their salaries and security. There is no organised infrastructural system to deliver and manage training for teachers in private sectors. In short, teachers are facing a similar learning stress like their own students.
Well, there could be a few more causes that build the stress. It is time for the individual institutions and the society to take suitable remedial measures to enhance the comfort levels of the teachers working in the schools. A stress-free and happy teacher is an asset to the institution, and they help in building the school as a happy place to learn.