Caring for teachers’ well-being during lockdowns

NOVMEBER 16 — We need to stop for a few moments now and think about the people who’ve been delivering online lessons for our kids since the lockdowns began. 

We all know Team PN has a lot to learn when it comes to the unintended consequences of their policies and certainly one example of a “bad result” of shutting down all educational institutions is the suffering of practically every teacher in the nation.

And since we’re talking about Malaysia’s educators (covering early years, primary, secondary and tertiary) the number of people involved is easily north of 500,000 teachers.

As every employee knows, the lockdowns have led to “Zoom fatigue.” This is undeniably tough for everyone, but I’m willing to bet it affects educators in worse ways than most realise.

For example, attending an online meeting is easy peasy compared to facilitating a class for 20- to 30-odd students who are — let’s just say —under no obligation to be attentive. Or to even log on for that matter.

A meeting is usually one or two people talking; the non-talkers just keep quiet and, well, do other things. But if you’re delivering a lesson (with the vague hope of achieving certain “learning objectives”) you need to be “zoned in” 100 per cent of the time — even when you’re pretty damn sure only a few students are listening and fewer than zero of them are interested. 

In fact, your students may even be secretly hoping the Zoom servers spontaneously combust or something.

I mean, you know how hard it is to perform and achieve as a student, right? Now imagine someone else — your teacher! — also being officially accountable for your grades, plus those of everyone else in the class?

Never a bed of roses

Even before lockdown, the teaching profession wasn’t an easy one.

Imagine facilitating five or six lessons to groups of between 20 to 40 students, not all of whom are exactly angels, not all of whom see learning as their raison d’être, some of whom woke up in the morning with an unquenchable desire to disrupt the class and make you wanna call the United Nations for a binding resolution to get at least half the class to sit down and shut up.

These lessons which you strain to deliver every day had to be prepared beforehand according to pretty strict “templates” slash “unit plans” (some of which may be rejected if your Head of Department decides they don’t match the excitement of a world-class TED Talk, or which simply isn’t “engaging” enough), during and after which you’re required to perform assessments.

Back to today’s Covid19 lockdown era.

I’ve heard stories of a teacher using their own mobile data to run her daily six- to seven-hour classes. When I asked about her claiming back the data costs from her school, she said her department didn’t allow it.

I’ve heard many teachers fretting over their mental health, their eye-sight and the complete lack of time to do anything other than sit in front of their screens the entire day.

I’ve heard some teachers fret over:

  • complaints from parents that the classes are too boring and their kids are literally falling asleep
  • warnings from their superiors to not be too creative beyond the stated objectives
  • grumblings from students about last week’s homework which they “forgot” to do because oh wifi connection was bad (as if that’s the teacher’s fault)
  • grievances from the teachers’ own family members who wonder if education is best served by one adult speaking to a darkness comprised of kids’ usernames, a darkness which doesn’t speak back except to say goodbye at the end of the class

All the above is in addition to “everything else” teachers are expected to do. These may include reporting, planning, attending training, giving training, marketing, counselling ad infinitum.

Anything helps

I’m not saying let’s give every teacher a five-star holiday and up their pay by 40 per cent. Not at all.

I’m saying maybe as parents and educational leaders we can take a few minutes and ask what little extra we can do (or refrain from doing) to ensure this “backbone” of our society — if you don’t agree that teachers are one of society’s most important backbones, please check your privilege? — gets all the help they need.

Maybe heads of schools need to listen more to them as individuals, ask them what they really need as family members, parents, etc.

Maybe parents of students can consider giving them some free Grab or  supermarket vouchers, in addition to talking to their kids about the plights their “boring” teacher may be going through, situations nobody may understand.

Maybe students who always moan about the lack of activity during Zoom classes can propose new learning activities or, hey, even take up the instructional role for once i.e. do some “active learning” and all that?

Maybe school leaders can consider creative benefits eg, an additional week of leave? rewards in kind? e-birthday parties with lucky e-draws? Or, at least, subsidised wifi?

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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