8 issues facing teachers and support staff today

The coronavirus crisis has left those that normally work in schools in a uniquely stressful situation, writes one welfare charity boss
30th April 2020, 5:35pm
Sinéad McBrearty

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8 issues facing teachers and support staff today

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/8-issues-facing-teachers-and-support-staff-today
Teacher Wellbeing: How Do We Tackle Teacher Stress?

There is a wide range of issues affecting individuals within the education workforce right now, from financial distress to loss of identity. Some of those are common to everyone; some are specific to educators.

This is not a comprehensive list, but here are eight issues teachers and support staff are facing.

Loss and grief

People are experiencing these emotions about the loss of our way of life that has occurred since lockdown began. Some are also experiencing grief due to the death of a loved one. Whether loved ones have died due to coronavirus, or other causes, people are not able to take comfort in the traditional loss rituals. This inability to connect with family, friends and colleagues in the way that we normally would at such times can make a loss even more difficult to deal with.

Financial distress and fear

Many households have been directly affected by the loss of employment and income. While most of the education workforce is securely employed, many will now become the main breadwinner in their families. This can leave families facing a significant shift in their standard of living, or facing debts that they can no longer repay.

Many supply teachers, contract lecturers and term-time only contractors remain uncertain about if, and when, they can expect to receive payment through government welfare schemes. These individuals and families face hardship in the current situation, and in many instances are without the resources to pay for food.

Fear and anxiety

Many people working in schools, colleges and universities have health conditions that leave them particularly vulnerable, or have children, partners or parents who are vulnerable to the virus. Feeling vulnerable can create heightened anxiety and tension within families and households.

Those educators who continue to work in schools, providing critical support for the children of key workers, remain unclear about the protocols and protective equipment required to stay safe in that environment. Those working with the youngest children often feel that the use of protective equipment, and social distancing, creates anxiety and fear in the children. Some decide to remain as accessible as usual to children, but privately worry about the risk they may be taking with their own health, and that of their families.

Isolation and loss of identity

Working in education is a profoundly social endeavour. Relationships with pupils and colleagues are known to be especially important to educators. In the current situation, contact with pupils and colleagues is significantly limited. For many, this is very disorienting. Educators are not in control of the attentiveness or engagement of their classes. They are aware of a wide range of issues that will be playing out in the domestic lives of each pupil, not all of which will support learning, safety or health. This lack of connection can lead to an erosion of identity and purpose: if I am not working with my students, what's the point of all this?

Distance learning

Many teachers and lecturers are working flat-out to prepare significant volumes of material to support distance learning or understanding the exam-marking process. In some schools, there is an expectation that teachers can accomplish just as much remotely as they could in a classroom with their pupils.

Pressure from leaders

Some schools continue to make significant demands on their staff, expecting an uninterrupted level of productivity in this circumstance. For many teachers, getting to grips with working from home, juggling the needs of their own children and meeting this expectation from leaders is proving extremely stressful. 

Home working

For many teachers and lecturers, the shift to home working has proved stressful. There are new systems and working methods to get used to, and the relationship with pupils - so central to education - is now remote. This has an impact on how connected educators can stay to their classes. In addition, for many young teachers, they live in shared accommodation, and have limited space within which to work and live. This can lead to an inability to switch off from work.

What might be happening off grid

Many educators are troubled by what they see as a daily increase in the "deprivation gap", through the variability of learning and development that can take place in the homes of children and young people who are more, and less, well resourced. There is a general consensus that this gap will widen during the coronavirus crisis, reinforcing existing inequalities.   

Educators worry about those children who are at risk. The current crisis has affected social services and Camhs provision, and there is concern that many children will face additional risks in their home setting during lockdown.

In some cases, educators are filling in the gap by doing community and voluntary work to ensure that young people are not going hungry and are safe, healthy and happy. By stepping into this vacuum, there is some concern that educators will be left holding roles traditionally played by other parts of the public service (for example, social care or welfare) and end up with an even more overloaded work programme.

Sinead McBrearty is chief executive of Education Support.

Teachers and education staff who are feeling stressed or anxious during these uncertain times can get confidential emotional support from Education Support's free and confidential helpline: 08000 562561.

If you're in a position to help others in these extraordinary times, you can make a donation so that we can continue to answer the increasing number of desperate calls and grants applications we are receiving. 

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