The theme of this month’s cover story is one that is often relegated to the margins of any discussion around education and classroom practice. We talk about preparation, resources, workload, performance, and we even talk about student stress, but rarely do we pay attention to how all this impacts the emotional and mental well-being of the central character – the teacher. Of course, from time to time we do bemoan the dependence on the government teacher for a variety of administrative tasks, including census and election duties and we express sympathy for her as she deals with this unending list of extraneous tasks.
But we rarely acknowledge the invisible but essential ‘care work’ that every teacher must do, and particularly those at early primary and board-facing levels. Not only does the teacher have to manage the academic progress of her pupils at all levels, but she also has to ensure that they are cared for, that they learn in a positive and healthy atmosphere. Teachers at the early primary level become in loco parentis, providing emotional support as these young children take their first steps outside the home. Teachers who handle adolescents in higher classes must be sensitive to all types of growing pains, often offering psychological counseling in addition to keeping an eye on their report cards. Teachers in board-facing classes must handle the fears and anxieties of their wards as they face a major academic milestone.
In all this, the teacher’s own care is usually not at all a matter of concern. There is hardly any systemic support for the teacher to debrief or work through her own tensions and stresses, which are often a result of handling the tensions and stresses of her students.
This issue carries two thoughtful articles that consider the impact of care work and possible ways of addressing the resulting burnout. We’d love it if our readers could share their own stories of confusion and coping. That is, after all, the first step to addressing burnout: acknowledging, sharing and then addressing it.
Here’s wishing our readers a happy, healthy, stress-free 2020.