Coronavirus impact: Amid online education and hybrid models, teachers’ mental health issues take a backseat

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Updated: October 01, 2021 2:49 PM

Teachers have been working with students to ensure that they do not face any adverse mental health issues due to the pandemic and the resultant lack of social interaction.

To teachers who have been teaching using traditional methods for a long time, adapting to online mode has not been an easy task. (Representational image)

Coronavirus impact on teachers: The coronavirus pandemic has had a severe impact on the education system and the way schools work. Online classes have changed the entire routine of children and the lack of social interaction with children their own age has affected them to a great extent. However, there has been a huge mental toll on the teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic that has not been much talked about. Shifting to online education has inevitably affected the mental health of teachers to some extent as they have had to learn new technology for remote working and teaching seemingly overnight.

Teachers have been working with students to ensure that they do not face any adverse mental health issues due to the pandemic and the resultant lack of social interaction. However, the mental health issues of teachers themselves have not received as much focus from society as they should have.

Nalini Ponnappa, Academic Head at Vidyashilp School, told Financial Express Online, “During the initial days, the teaching community faced a massive setback with reference to the teaching-learning process. Most teachers did not receive sufficient time to invest in technology when compared to the resources and time that were made available to students and other professionals. The additional stress on teachers was also on learning and developing the required skills – to prepare for online teaching. This transition created anxieties and insecurities as several of them required training for planning and developing resources. Teachers had to work very hard, juggling the demands of online education and family requirements.”

“The start of remote learning was sudden and involved a steep learning curve for the educators. This steep learning happened amidst the changed environment of work-from-home and struggles associated with that. Additionally, teachers faced the tough challenge of keeping students engaged, connected and motivated online. While the teachers had to keep up with their responsibility of teaching, they also had to strike a balance between the personal and professional space as the lines got blurred when the classroom was within their home,” said Aastha Chaudhry, Psychotherapist School Counsellor, Shiv Nadar School Gurugram.

The impact of transition to online learning

To teachers who have been teaching using traditional methods for a long time, adapting to online mode has not been an easy task.

“The transition to online education was rapid. Teachers had to restructure the curriculum and pedagogy to cater to the needs of students in the new mode of learning. Each teacher has upskilled technologically. It has been both exhausting and an enriching experience for most. The work hours were often stretched as there was a need to look after the emotional health of the students and also support parents as they dealt with issues being faced by the students. Teachers for senior grades who had students preparing for board exams, along with students, found themselves in an ambiguous and uncertain state,” Chaudhry added.

“It wasn’t easy for sure, as teachers from traditional schools who have not accessed the digital platform were expected to comprehend and deliver in the first month itself. It took them some time and a lot of handholding to understand the various apps, tools and the platform, but they have managed quite well and are now performing seamlessly. Regular reinforcement and updates help ensure that the crew is apprised at all times. Training sessions at regular intervals helps teachers who struggle with technology,” said Aruna Shetty, Principal of 21K School.

Work-life balance of teachers in the online education world

“The new mechanism of online education has posed more challenges to the work-life balance of teachers, who were earlier used to a structured regimen of going to school, teaching and coming back home to look after their domestic commitments. Now doing everything from home and juggling domestic responsibilities has become a challenge and the different roles they play are overlapping each other. Time Management is another ongoing challenge,” said Dr Christopher Abraham, CEO and Head, Dubai Campus, SP Jain School of Global Management.

“Work from Home (WFH) meant a 24×7 round the clock work with teachers frequently donning different caps in quick succession – as a teacher, as a home maker, as an advisor, a care taker while all through keeping his/her own fears, worries, and tension under wraps,” said B Srinivasan, Dean of Academics, Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management, Shahani Group.

Mental health of teachers during the pandemic

“From being uncertain about the new education paradigm, to diving into numerous trainings on various digital platforms, to ensuring an emotionally healthy and constructive learning environment for students, teachers have dealt with high amount of stress to ensure high quality of online education. The blurring of boundaries between home and work space was a difficult change to manage. At times, we noticed signs and symptoms of stress in the form of anxiety, sleep disturbance, and changes in eating habits. During the second wave, it became even more difficult as the teachers had to support students and parents through situations of hospitalization or losing loved ones while dealing with health issues or grief within their own families,” said Chaudhry, who is a Psychotherapist.

“While teachers often go through emotional and mental turbulence, during the pandemic their ability to work through it has skewed drastically. What would otherwise be a concern to work through may now be able to overwhelm them considerably. As much as a teacher may have been able to strategize and execute their creativity in a physical classroom, many have had to start from the basics when it comes to translating and infusing it into an online medium. This has been difficult and a point of concern for almost every teacher steering through this transition, but they have gradually found their way with the right assistance. There has also been a low perception of themself as well as of what their jobs entail, considering most South-East Asian countries have yet to consider a job that is permanently online to be a job they can completely rely upon. As more come around to the growing world and their ideologies, the impact this shift had on their mental health has deteriorated too, moulding into more of a boon in a time of crisis with the pandemic,” Sabah Shaikh, Counsellor at 21K School, said.

Concerns of teachers during the pandemic

“Concerns regarding coping with blurring boundaries between work and home space and hence a clear time division for those responsibilities was a concern, especially from female teachers. Added to this was the constant worry about the safety and wellbeing of self and family, helping students through grief and answering questions of their students in a candid and age appropriate manner. Managing a healthy rapport with the students virtually was an added pressure,” said Chaudhry.

“A lot of our teachers, being active facilitators of learning, have voiced concerns about boundaries, both in their professional and personal lives. We have come to understand that when working from home, the luxury of leaving their home struggles outside the classroom (and vice versa) has been a definite struggle,” Shaikh said.

Supporting teachers through COVID-induced mental health issues

“Support for mental health in any environment begin by talking about it openly and breaking the myths and stereotypes around the issue. Similarly, supporting teachers with their mental wellbeing should start with open conversations, creating a culture of peer and supervisor check-ins as network of supports can go a long way. It is also advisable to ensure therapy is included in the healthcare plans. School should also look at providing wellness breaks in addition to privileged leaves, earned leaves, and sick leaves,” Chaudhry said.

“At our end, we collaborated and formed teams to share lesson plans and resources to support one another. Understanding the pressures of workload of teachers so as to create a more flexible plan to enable them to balance the demands of work and home is also an important step that can be taken,” said Ponnappa.

“One of the most successful methods of ensuring our support and genuinely helping our crew is to show consistency. This means both consistently providing support in all ways we are able to, while also ensuring we are consistently listening to their concerns, practising changes, and helping them with coping strategies to concerns they bring to their confidential and safe spaces with a counsellor or any of their stakeholders. Hierarchies have never come in between a crew member voicing their concerns or asking for help. One other helpful method has been to psycho-educate teachers on identifying, validating, and thereby working on the more common concerns we have seen coming up emotionally, behaviorally, socially, or otherwise. This is because, at the end of the day, we want to make sure we are a crew that is able to work towards growth both individually and within our community,” Shaikh said.

Will things get better?

With schools now shifting to a hybrid model, it is largely expected for things to get better at some level, as there is likely to be a clearer routine regimen than is possible during complete work from home. However, it is not going to be easier, at least in the beginning.

“The hybrid mode will need teachers to delve deeper into the engagement of two groups of students- one present with them physically and another group online. It will take skill and complete involvement to create a learning environment with equal attention to both groups. Just like any other transition, it is likely to have the initial teething problems which would be sorted eventually. The hybrid environment will also involve strict rules for students to follow the COVID protocols for safety -restrictions of movement, distanced group work and distanced social interactions. As an added responsibility, teachers would also need to have an oversight into these aspects,” Chaudhry said.

“In order to successfully adjust to the hybrid model, teachers need to reassess the teaching methodologies both practically and theoretically and re-imagine their strategies by embracing the model. The adoption of customized curricula, strong technological engagement, and adoption of online pedagogical practices have positively impacted faculty transition to the online classroom,” said Nitish Jain, President, SP Jain School of Global Management.

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