What no­body tells you about teach­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - AL­IZEH KHALID

The re­ac­tions I get from peo­ple on telling them I am a teacher can be cat­e­go­rized into three kinds: re­ac­tions from those who hap­pen to find my pro­fes­sion ad­mirable and praise­wor­thy; those who be­lit­tle my line of work (it ob­vi­ously can’t com­pete with lu­cra­tive and promis­ing cor­po­rate or for­eign-backed de­vel­op­ment jobs); and those who envy me (the short work­ing hours and nu­mer­ous hol­i­days within an aca­demic year are rather tan­ta­liz­ing for those who toil and moil nine to five, or even till much later).

How­ever, it is un­for­tu­nate that up till now, I haven’t come across any in­di­vid­ual (ex­cept other teach­ers) who rec­og­nizes the stress that ac­com­pa­nies this pro­fes­sion.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s (WHO) de­fines oc­cu­pa­tional stress as, “The re­sponse peo­ple may have when pre­sented with work de­mands and pres­sures that are not matched to their knowl­edge and abil­i­ties and which chal­lenge their abil­ity to cope.”

For a ma­jor­ity of teach­ers, their work falls within this def­i­ni­tion.

The pro­fes­sion has, in fact, be­come plagued by a high turnover rate in re­cent years be­cause of burnout.

And those who con­tinue to stay in the pro­fes­sion take days off, con­sider quit­ting or per­form in­ef­fec­tively be­cause of work-re­lated stress.

Re­search re­veals the sever­ity of oc­cu­pa­tional stress that teach­ers across the world face.

This BBC re­port states that stress lev­els amongst teach­ers are on the up.

In fact, na­tional sta­tis­tics com­piled from 2003 to 2006 by the Health and Safety Ex­ec­u­tive (HSE) in the UK, show that the high­est re­ported rates of oc­cu­pa­tional stress, de­pres­sion or anx­i­ety are found in the teach­ing and re­search pro­fes­sions, and that these rates were al­most twice as much as the stress felt in other pro­fes­sions.

As stated in this re­port, the sit­u­a­tion in Amer­i­can schools is no dif­fer­ent, and the disen­gage­ment and stress teach­ers feel at work could be ad­versely af­fect­ing the per­for­mance of stu­dents in re­turn.

As a teacher who has taught at sev­eral well-re­puted pri­vate schools in Pak­istan, I will list some of the causes of stress be­low.

While many of these are es­tab­lished rea­sons, some are ex­clu­sive to my ex­pe­ri­ence as a pri­vate school teacher in the coun­try.

Work­load

A sur­vey of 3,500 mem­bers in the afore­men­tioned BBC re­port shows that most of the re­spon­dents con­sid­ered quit­ting the pro­fes­sion in the past year be­cause of work­load.

The con­stant drudgery of pre­par­ing and check­ing as­sign­ments and assess­ments is def­i­nitely a stresstrig­ger for me too.

Each week is spent with lec­tures, each month is spent with as­sign­ments and each “end of term” is spent sub­merged in heaps and piles of ex­am­i­na­tion pa­pers.

And like most other teach­ers, my work does not end within work hours.

I usu­ally end up bring­ing work home be­cause there is an ex­tent to the num­ber of pa­pers I can check within school tim­ings, es­pe­cially when there’s an ap­proach­ing dead­line.

Man­ag­ing yearly, monthly and daily plan­ners and be­ing as­signed ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties fur­ther aug­ments the work­load.

While the bur­den might vary depend­ing on the num­ber of pupils, the grade and the school cul­ture, only in rare cases is hu­mane.

it rea­son­ably

Pupil Be­hav­ior

Dis­rup­tive be­hav­ior in class­rooms is at­trib­uted to a range of fac­tors, from fam­ily prob­lems at home to a large class­room size. But what­ever, the rea­son(s) might be, what doesn’t change is that the teacher has to deal di­rectly with such in­stances of dis­rup­tive be­hav­ior, and it can re­ally take a toll on their men­tal and phys­i­cal health.

Nearly two-thirds of the 800 pri­mary and sec­ondary school teach­ers from the UK said they suf­fered from stress, anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion be­cause of poor stu­dent be­hav­ior.

In our part of the world, the bid to suc­ceed in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket is mak­ing stu­dents take a lot of lib­er­ties which are con­doned by the school man­age­ment.

Un­for­tu­nately, it is not the school man­age­ment but the stressed and anx­ious teacher who has to pay the price for such a com­pro­mise.

I can never for­get the time when my col­league Sana en­tered the staff room, flus­tered and in tears, be­cause of the be­hav­ior she faced in class.

The stu­dents had ap­par­ently ganged up against a new teacher and were try­ing their best to dis­rupt her lec­ture by mak­ing noises, fly­ing pa­per planes in the air or ask­ing ridicu­lous ques­tions from time to time.

While I am yet to ex­pe­ri­ence such mis­be­hav­ior per­son­ally, the daily use of cell­phones dur­ing class, talk­ing or pass­ing notes dur­ing a lec­ture, or the late en­try of that one par­tic­u­lar stu­dent, are enough to keep my nerves on edge.

Salary Pack­age

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion/UNESCO’s rec­om­men­da­tions in 1966, teach­ers’ salaries should:

— Re­flect the im­por­tance to so­ci­ety of the teach­ing func­tion and hence the im­por­tance of teach­ers, as well as the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of all kinds which fall upon them from time to time of their en­try into, ser­vice.

— Com­pare fa­vor­ably with salaries paid in other oc­cu­pa­tions, re­quir­ing sim­i­lar or equiv­a­lent qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

Public and low-cost pri­vate school teach­ers in Pak­istan do not get a stipend which ful­fills the afore­men­tioned rec­om­men­da­tions pro­posed by UNESCO.

And while elite pri­vate schools do pay teach­ers rel­a­tively well, it is not enough to run a house­hold in the midst of ris­ing util­ity bills, and the high cost of liv­ing.

This is another cause of stress, as the ef­fort an hon­est teacher puts in, is not be­ing com­pen­sated ad­e­quately.

In or­der to make ends meet, I have male col­leagues teach­ing at four to five schools dur­ing the day and go­ing to tu­ition cen­ters in the evenings.

Some of them also muster the energy to tu­tor pri­vately on week­ends as well.

Lack of a Sup­port­ive En­vi­ron­ment

Another rea­son for oc­cu­pa­tional stress for teach­ers is the lack of sup­port they re­ceive in schools.

Many pri­vate schools now of­fer coun­sel­ing to en­sure the emo­tional well-be­ing of stu­dents, but for teach­ers, there is no such av­enue.

More than any­thing, it is the ab­sence of a plat­form which treats and dis­cusses these prob­lems as se­ri­ous, le­git­i­mate is­sues that need fix­ing, which make you feel like you’re just another a cog in the wheel.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ad­min­is­tra­tion and school man­age­ment pri­or­i­tize the stu­dent’s pref­er­ences over the teacher’s, be­cause in the bur­geon­ing mar­ket of schools, as the head­mas­ter of one of the best schools in La­hore him­self put it, “Each stu­dent is like a cus­tomer you have to please and cater to … com­pe­ti­tion is fierce and we can’t imag­ine los­ing a sin­gle stu­dent.”

That’s what I was told af­ter I had made earnest com­plaints about the stu­dents bunk­ing my class, not study­ing or per­form­ing be­low par.

Ob­vi­ously, that was my last year in that school and the head­mas­ter prob­a­bly heaved a sigh of re­lief af­ter my exit.

Se­cu­rity Threat

The 2014 Peshawar school at­tack on stu­dents and teach­ers, which shocked the en­tire world, meant a new kind of chal­lenge and brav­ery for Pak­istani teach­ers.

It also meant a new kind of oc­cu­pa­tional stress — our work­places were now the most likely tar­gets of an im­pend­ing bru­tal at­tack.

We were greeted by armed guards point­ing their guns at us; park­ing our cars within school premises with­out “car stick­ers” was a big no; pass­ing through body scan­ners and a search of our be­long­ings on a daily ba­sis; se­cu­rity drills with stu­dents and teach­ers run­ning hel­ter skel­ter af­ter the din of an alarm; none of this helped to in­fuse any calm or tran­quil­ity in our work lives.

While there are many other rea­sons which make teach­ing one of the most stress­ful oc­cu­pa­tions, to have the school ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion ac­knowl­edge this fact and take tiny, if not gar­gan­tuan steps to ad­dress this prob­lem, would go a long way in bol­ster­ing a work­force which is in­stru­men­tal in shap­ing Pak­istan’s fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

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