Given the change in the education dynamics and with the introduction of the NEP, many teachers have their own anxieties spurred. All the while, they are continuing to act in loco parentis as much as the situation and technology allows, striving to prevent a lost learning generation.
Uncertainty lingers while shoots of innovation grow from the chaos and thrive, but where will the sector be when the dust finally settles?
Workload and teacher wellbeing – inherently linked?
In October last year, a survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) revealed that over a quarter of teachers polled were considering leaving the profession within the next 12 months. Of these respondents, more than 56% cited workload pressures as the main factor driving their decision, while a further 20% cited stress and anxiety.
“The challenge is, the more teachers who are driven by stress and workload pressures to leave the profession, the more work and pressure is piled upon those who remain,” said John Ingram, CEO of Pamoja Education, an Oxford-based edtech company.
Nathan Snider, manager of policy and outreach at the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) in Canada – a country battling similar teacher welfare issues – firmly believes that heavy workloads have a significant impact on teacher wellbeing.
“I think they’re immediately interlinked,” he told ET.
“I think self-care is something that’s largely talked about from the student perspective and not often talked about from an educator perspective. It’s a bit of a blind spot. Not only are they interlinked, but I also think the quality of self-care provided for teachers and its impact on the workload are obviously one in the same, and as a result, the quality of education being administered is negatively impacted. You’re dealing with a subject that’s intertwined with both student and educator experience.”
But Laura McInerney, co-founder of Teacher Tapp and former teacher, disagrees. “They’re not necessarily interlinked as there are some people who work phenomenally long hours, particularly head teachers, who nevertheless say they have the highest morale and are the most satisfied with their work-life balance. It’s not as straightforward as the hours you work or the responsibility level you have reducing your wellbeing,” she told ET. “Now, that’s not true for everyone,” she said. “We see patterns of middle leaders in particular, who have long working hours and still take home a lot of work with them.”
So stacked is the teacher’s day that analysing their opinions towards workload and wellbeing is no easy feat. “It’s hard to survey teachers,” explained McInerney. “Like many people in other professions, they don’t have ready access to computers all day and they’re very busy, so getting their opinions or attitudes can be very difficult.”
As someone with first-hand experience of daily teaching pressures, Laura understood the importance of gleaning teacher insights, but recognised the ineffective and unhelpful nature of sector leaders and edtech companies hounding them for a survey response.
And so, McInerny and co-founder Becky Allen created the Teacher Tapp app. Every school day, the app sends thousands of teachers across the UK three multiple choice questions about their opinions on teaching. Once answered, they are able to view the previous day’s results and uncover what thousands of their peers are thinking. The app then sends a deeper analysis of responses on the following Monday, while teachers also receive daily continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities that are short, clear and relevant to teaching.
“Instead of everybody trying to hamper them to get hold of them, we wanted to make the process as streamlined as possible because teachers have such a high workload. You don’t want to be adding to that by having them talk to all the stakeholders. We wanted to make their lives easier, but if they don’t talk to the stakeholders, then how will things ever get resolved?”
The teacher’s perspective
Teacher Tapp’s findings have provided valuable insights on the matter of workload and wellbeing. One survey, for example, found that 69% of respondents disagreed (to varying degrees) that the stress levels they experience are acceptable for the job they do, while 77% claimed that “workload and work-life balance” were the cause of stress and unhappiness at work.
Can automation help teacher wellbeing?
As Ingram suggests, tech is often championed as a means to reduce everyday classroom stresses. In a world stricken by COVID-19, edtech has been a saviour. Generally (even pre-pandemic), access to shareable digital resources has been shown to reduce time spent on planning and lesson prep – for primary school teachers in particular. A look at the interactive whiteboard provides a more specific example of how edtech can help; on top of saving time on planning, prep and delivery, the smartboard allows teachers to tailor content to the specific needs of each student. With its personalised nature, the VLE (virtual learning environment) offers similar perks while working remotely. Interactive whiteboards have been shown to reduce levels of stress and anxiety in pre-service Maths teachers in previous studies.
The COVID-19 impact on teacher wellbeing
With future generations relying on technology to minimise the disruption and prepare them for the future, the sector has no choice but to adapt.
“I think it’s really clear that the emergence of edtech in the classroom is increasing. So far, COVID-19 has done nothing but prove that edtech is here to stay, and I think that our ability to leverage that technology in an effective way is going to increase. As a result of that, a critical focus is ensuring that educator support is in place. For the educators’ sake, in terms of balancing workload and educator care and support, I think, again, it’s kind of one in the same. More professional skills development opportunities ensure that there’s better classroom management, better support for students and in turn, better educator wellbeing,” Snider concludes.
(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in Education Technology. The original article can be found at https://edtechnology.co.uk/people-policy-politics/the-report-isolation-education-teacher-wellbeing/)