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Reasons why school teachers feel stressed

By G. Balasubramanian

Reports worldwide do indicate that there is an increasing stress among educators in school education. Studies have also shown that symptoms of anxiety, depression, helplessness, insecurity and self-pity exist in a number of cases. In some countries, low compensation for the work they do in comparison to other types of work and low social-esteem do contribute to their stress.

In the Indian context, the complexity of the Indian education systems due to multiple levels of management, political interventions, methods of recruitment of competent persons, inadequacy of training, inferior quality of teacher education strategies have all contributed to an enteral stress behaviour among teachers. Keeping all the above aside, a teacher in the classroom does experience a lot of stress in spite of years of experience they have to their credit for the following reasons:

1. Learning behaviour of students

There is marked change in the learning behaviour of the students in schools. The speed and spectrum of information flow has ushered in a mythical learning consumerism. Unwarranted, irrelevant and untimely information has led the learners to unhealthy competition, false identity chases, non-specific goals and aggressive achievement desires. Many of these do not synchronize or synergize with established goals and objectives of learning and appear often inappropriate to the needs and psyche of the age group. These do create a conflict of interest with what educators intend, look forward to or what kind of learning environment they are sought to create in a formal classroom. Educators appear to be fighting with multi-dimensional challenges in the classroom leading to inexplicable reasons for their inner stress.

2. Parental and societal expectations

The understanding of the changing tools, processes and products of learning are not adequately understood by a large number of parents. Even in cases where they understand, they appear to be stuck to established patterns of yester years for fear of the future or for the challenges that could create to their wards. The focus and goals of learning are hence largely linked to a futuristic learning pre-conceived and pre-monitored by the society and the parents forcing the learners to stick to linearity of methods and processes. This inhibits schools and classrooms from respecting and responding to the stakeholders’ needs, thus delaying any disruptions to the existing educational dynamics. While the educators are blamed for their hesitation to an onward march, there is an invisible chain that holds them to social compulsions; the conflict does create a stress in the minds of educators.

3. Impact of technology and change management

The recent innovations in technology have impacted the learning systems in schools significantly. The compulsion to go ahead With online teaching methods during covid times forced the teachers and schools to respond to the needs of the hour with newer models using both hardware and software. The use of videos, audios and virtual tours to illustrate to explain the concepts brought an entirely different perspective to their pedagogical interactions. The skills of change management indeed put a lot of pressure on them as they were moving from known zones to unknown zones of operation. The stress associated with such paradigm shifts gave anxiety and restlessness.

4. Performance pressure

Despite the chaos all around, the system and the society would not like to make any compromise with the performance profile of the learners. The thrust on achievement alongside the psychological pain and emotional trauma the learners underwent had to be taken cognizance of by the teaching community. They had to devise newer approaches to address the learning gaps arising out of such situations. Reaching out to the learners to understand their challenges and supporting them was indeed adding to their psychological stress, This problem was felt on the entire universe of the learning ladder (K-12) and teachers on the entire canvas of school operation are stressed.

5. Large classrooms

The large size of the classrooms has always been a potential contributor to the stress of the teachers. While there is a systemic demand to personalize learning and to provide individual inputs to each learner, customization of learning to an individual learner to meet exactly one’s learning style has been a tributary to the stress. Keeping the economic considerations, many managements tend to keep the numbers in the class large. Teachers are often taken to task for variance in performances of learners in a classroom and the root cause for the same as swollen numbers in classrooms is marginalized.

6. Inadequate time for preparation

“Teacher preparedness” is always an issue discussed in many platforms. Fingers are raised against teachers with regard to inadequacy in delivery of the content, lack of innovation, ineffective methods of provoking curiosity, lack of relevance to real time situations. All these would require enough time for the teachers to reflect on the lessons and work towards impactful pedagogies. With teachers being given regular classes in a range of 90-95 percent of total periods, they suffocate. With tired spirit and inadequate time to reflect, teachers feel stressed to respond adequately to the demands of the classroom.

7. Lack of support from the school managements

In a number of institutions teachers feel that they are considered just as employees and the specific challenges faced by them in doing their work are not understood and appreciated by the managements. The school leadership does not offer adequate knowledge, skill and service supports to them to be relevant and respond to the emerging challenges. Absence of resource centers in schools, lack of investment in training for the future keeps many of them low and they feel that they may get exposed. In a situation where the students are far ahead with current technologies, the lack of support to be relevant keeps them stressed.

8. Burn-out syndrome

Several of the above listed challenges have led to burn-out syndrome among many teachers. They tend to get mentally and physically exhausted sooner than later. They tend to resist changes, fail to contribute adequately, exhibit non-cooperative attitudes and show sickly behaviour. Lack of encouragement for some demanding work they do adds fuel. Too many school programs to brand the school disengaging with purposeful academic activities raises their eyebrows. Finally, they believe they have no say on things what happen and this lack of inclusion leads to stress.

The time is ripe that these issues are addressed both at the institutional level as well as at other administrative levels. A stressed teacher is not a great performer. A stressed teacher cannot support innovation. A stressed teacher cannot provoke curiosity. A stressed teacher cannot adequately and positively respond to a learner. Schools need to manage this issue with the attention it deserves.