By Monique Alberts, Daleen Botha and Nadia Herbst
Education is an emotionally exhausting profession that happens at a fast pace and more and more teachers admit that they feel overwhelmed. With this reality in mind, burnout and impaired mental health are more than just buzzwords, they are indicative of the high demands and often impossible expectations placed on teachers by communities.
Mental health is, thanks to large-scale awareness-raising in all sectors, an aspect that receives much and well-deserved attention these days. A possible reason for this is the long-term impact that the Covid-19 pandemic had and still has on the world.
Although mental health is a dynamic concept, it succinctly refers to the emotional, psychological and social well-being of a person. Mental health is therefore closely related to stress management, socialization and decision making.
There is often a focus on the mental health of school learners, and just a basic search on the internet yields an abundance of articles that give advice on how learners can deal with school pressure more effectively and how resilience can be developed. However, more attention could definitely be paid to the mental health of teachers which includes burnout and various other issues.
There are various triggers that increase teachers’ anxiety levels, weaken their mental health, make them depressed and cause a loss of self-confidence. These triggers include factors such as workload, curriculum delivery, demanding parents, technology, lack of resources, overcrowded classrooms, extracurricular commitments, training and much more.
However, the well-being and mental health of teachers is not just another task that can be put before a school management or governing body, but must be seen as a holistic community goal.
The following intervention activities can be of value to teachers, and especially young teachers, when it comes to wellbeing management.
Mindfulness is described as simple techniques for approaching the present moment with compassion and curiosity. According to Refiloe Nyoni, the chief executive officer of the organization Mindful Revolution in South Africa, awareness can be promoted in different ways.
Examples of such techniques include stretching (yoga or pilates), good breathing exercises and writing down your thoughts and emotions in a journal.
It can also help to reward yourself for small victories. Technology and especially smartphone apps can also be harnessed to practice mindfulness. Some of these mindfulness exercises can be done at any time of the day and do not require extra time in a teacher’s already packed day.
Training in time management can be offered at a school as part of the South African Council for Educators (SARO) professional development programme. Time management is very important for teachers to plan their day and thus avoid anxiety. However, one must still be flexible as a fixed schedule can change at any time.
Induction programs and mentoring
Induction programs can have a positive impact on novice teachers in particular, as in many cases they include aspects such as mentoring. The aim of such a mentoring program is to train the novice teacher in skills such as effective time management, conflict management and maintaining discipline.
Such programs also offer young teachers the opportunity to purposefully build a support framework. There is also a lot of value in experienced teachers sharing their knowledge and insight with younger teachers.
Sir Richard Brandson, the famous entrepreneur, said on occasion: “Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business.” These wise words can easily be adapted to include education. Happy teachers equal happy children in the classroom. So support the teachers in your life in their journey to good mental health.
- Daleen Botha, Monique Alberts and Nadia Herbst are all attached to Akademia’s Faculty of Education.