The reality of overburdened pedagogues

Mounik Shankar Lahiri

We all know that no other profession contributes as much to deciding and influencing the kind of society we live in, as much as school teaching, but ironically, the work life of an average school teacher may be far from motivating. Moreover, school managements may not be completely aware and appreciative of the impact teachers have on societal outcomes.

I set out to explore how the intricacies and the structural manifestation of a school and their management affect a teacher’s morale and in turn impact learning outcomes. This exploration was driven by a few critical questions. Do the school management and authorities through their policies and decisions that are applicable to teachers really compliment a teacher’s ability to teach to the best of his/her abilities? And also, do they view the teacher as the most critical facilitator of knowledge and pedagogy, or do they just look at them as necessary administrators in the setup of the school?

I realized that the answers to these questions may not come from the school management, but from those who experience this process, day in and day out.

This article aims to see if there are competing expectations from teachers, beyond there main contracted responsibility of teaching and how such responsibilities might compromise their primary responsibility as pedagogues. Also of immense importance is how it affects them personally. We cannot be unmindful of the fact that at the end of the day, a teacher’s performance in the classroom will be closely linked to his/her self-image, which is a by-product of the way he/she is treated by the school management. Also, the physical and mental capacity they have to do their job well in the classrooms will depend on whether or not they have other competing demands on their time from the school management. I, therefore, set out to find the answer to the most critical but basic question, are our teachers overworked in our nation’s classrooms?

While I was interviewing teachers to share their experiences, what was increasingly clear was that despite their overwhelming willingness to participate in my survey, they were extremely pressed for time, busy with the range of responsibilities and expectations from their schools, school management, senior teachers, students, parents, and every other stakeholder possible. Not to mention the demand of a work-life balance that is no less significant or important. I mailed in questionnaires and asked for interviews but many of them couldn’t make time to respond, despite telling me that they wanted to respond and participate. Therefore, contrary to the popular perception, a teacher’s job today is hardly one that allows a lot of time for a healthy work-life balance.

For those who did participate, my first question to them was if they find themselves overworked as teachers. Some said they enjoy the challenges on their time and additional responsibilities but the overwhelming majority was of the opinion that most of the things that would take their time were not even complementary to their responsibilities as teachers. There was a teacher I spoke to from a CBSE school in the country’s capital, who was of the view that due to the advent of the CCE, their workload has increased manifold, without any additional help from the school management. One teacher from a school in Old Delhi says, “We have been struggling to finish the syllabus on time due to the additional work of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation system. Since the grading system has also metamorphosed into one that needs to accommodate various activities and projects, it is extremely demanding and leaves us feeling overburdened with additional work, aside from other school administrative duties.”

A teacher from a premier school in Mumbai claims that if she doesn’t take her work home, she would perhaps never be able to finish it. She says that not only is she expected to take her work home, she is also expected to work on weekends to plan extra curricular activities for the next week, in advance. Her school has started focusing on extra curricular activities due to the changing perception of the value of such activities. She says the school management has made it clear categorically to all teachers that if they wanted to keep their jobs, they had to initiate a new extra curricular activity every week for their chosen subject, failing which they will be considered for replacement. At the heart of such announcements is the fact that the school management doesn’t think that teachers come with any unique skill, motivation or ability, and believes therefore that they are easily replaceable, just like an assembly line worker in a factory.

In one of my memorable interviews with someone from Kolkata who has been teaching for a long time, in a very well-known school, affiliated to the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, I heard a very different story from what was the overwhelming experience otherwise. She asserted and was happy with the fact that she has never felt overburdened or overworked in her 15 years as a schoolteacher. She said the school management was always appreciative of the contribution she has made and that all her colleagues shared the same experience. She also said that she chose to be a teacher not because she felt she had nothing else to do but since she has always been deeply passionate about being among young learners and facilitating the learning process. She was of the view that it is integral for teachers to feel valued in the system, for them to be able to contribute to the best of their abilities. She says though that she is aware of some schools in the city that have recently sprung up, on the lines of the new-age corporate schools that overburden teachers with work that is not always part of their core responsibility.

In an interview with a woman who used to teach, but is now part of an NGO trying to improve better learning outcomes in disadvantaged schools, she narrated how she would feel demotivated with the amount of work she was expected to do in one of the premier schools she was teaching in. She recounted countless experiences of extra work that she was doing without getting recognized for it. She says that the extra work is not always a problem, even though the volume of it may sometimes be burdensome, but her more significant point was that it feels demotivating and futile when it goes unrecognized by the school management and thought to be a part of the core responsibility of a teacher’s role.

One of my most extensive interviews was with an ex-teacher from an elite private school in Hyderabad, which I have quoted in great detail for a better perspective. Even though not all her concerns may be uniformly applicable to teachers in different kinds of schools and boards, we can draw some broad conclusions from her views and experiences. The interview is as follows:

Do you ever feel overworked as a teacher? Are there instances of being forced to work more hours than you are hired for?

Yes I have. In private schools besides the number of teaching hours that one remains in school, there are certain times of the year when one has to work for more hours. The school doesn’t explicitly state the number of hours and there is no concept of overtime being payable since it is understood that there will be times when one has to work more or be involved in certain activities during the school year.

Do you ever hear your colleagues complain of being overworked?

Yes. Teachers do not get equal number of classes. Some may get less and others more depending on the availability of teachers for that subject and so on. I remember my colleagues having back-to-back classes, which really made them tired, and of course that affects the quality of teaching and preparation. Once a teacher was made to give private tuition to the managing director’s son who belonged to another school, free of cost. In another case the high school economics teacher was teaching economics to some people from the management after school hours, since they were pursuing their MBA and needed help. Again this was asked for and not paid for and the teacher could not refuse.

How do you get affected by being overworked? Does it affect your work-life balance?

Women enter teaching because it is supposed to be less strenuous than other jobs and the timings suit their family life, etc. So yes, work-life balance does get affected but more than that, time for teachers to prepare, think about students, learning and teaching, reflecting – these things are compromised upon. I cannot think of working with students who need help individually if I am busy with classes and get very little time to myself. Then the little time I get, I am not motivated to do more work, I would rather just sit and talk to my colleagues in the staff room, honestly, because that is also important.

At the end of the day, does your self-image ever get affected by the volume of work you are expected to do over and above your contracted responsibilities?

Not self-image exactly, but yes, if we try and speak to the HR about the additional work we are doing, it doesn’t affect our salaries. The management does recognize the work of some teachers and that is good, but not sufficient.

What according to you can be the solution to the problem of school management forcing extra work on teachers?

There should be more transparency about the number of work hours and related incentives for additional responsibilities. I don’t know if it is possible, but at times I feel teachers’ unions should exist because there are many other issues and teachers don’t know who to go to. The only choice we are left with is to quit our jobs, which we don’t want to, so we continue. But that impacts our performance and also nowadays teachers don’t stick to one school because of that. Salaries are low and if another school offers better pay, teachers move. That is not good for the school in the long run. School managements should value teachers a lot more.

The overwhelming conclusion I draw from my encounters with teachers and interviewing them in the context of this concern is that while there are definitely schools and school managements that treat their teachers with respect and understand their contribution more holistically, far too many of them find that there is a big discrepancy in what they were informed during the recruitment process and how it actually unfolds once they join a school. They also believe that the reason they feel overburdened and overworked is not as much in the volume of the work that is assigned to them but in the way the school management assigns that work. They regret the arbitrary nature of the expectations from the school management and the rigidity with which such expectations are imposed. It is at times such as these, that teachers from private schools rue the absence of a teachers’ union that can look at their interests and well-being, which influences their success as teachers in the classroom and is at the centre of the very enterprise of education and learning.

The author is an educator and freelance writer on education and holds an advanced PG diploma in Public Policy. He co-founded ‘Fill in the Blanks’, which aims to conduct workshops for teachers and students to supplement regular classroom interactions. He can be reached at themounik@yahoo.com.

Related articles

The Uncounted tasks of a teacher
One teacher, too many roles
Let’s nurture our teachers