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Friday 6 December 2019
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Managing our mental health

Photo courtesy Pixabay
Photo courtesy Pixabay

TTUTA

THE PAST 11 weeks have begun to take its toll on members of the school community and many teachers and students are eagerly anticipating the end of the term and the commencement of vacation.

This is the time of year when teachers begin to complain of feeling tired and sometimes exhausted and the vacation cannot come soon enough to get a much needed break from the routine of schooling.

Because the students are also tired and their concentration levels have gone past their peak, teachers would lament that a lot more effort and energy have to be expended in order to capture and retain their attention in the classroom.

Term one of the academic year can sometimes prove to be the most challenging for teachers and the authorities should seriously consider a break somewhere in the middle.

It is in this context teachers are reminded to take the necessary steps to secure their emotional and mental well-being. This is the time when the job can seem overwhelming and stress levels begin to escalate.

If this is not carefully managed it can have a negative impact on one’s overall well-being, leading to lower levels of commitment, enthusiasm and, ultimately, output. Emotional imbalance can subsequently set in and if not recognised and managed can even progress to depression.

Teachers are thus urged to seek the assistance and support of colleagues in dealing with these situations, with the services of professionals in the form of the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) always being an option.

Collegiality and teamwork would dictate that teachers look out for one another, ready and willing to point out symptoms of stress and burnout in colleagues.

Professional maturity on one’s part would also be required to listen to colleagues when these things are pointed out since it is quite common to not realise when one is reacting to stressful situations in a negative way that is ultimately inimical to one’s emotional and mental well-being.

Colleagues and senior officials must always be ready and willing to lend a listening ear to others so that some emotional comfort can be given to those people who feel overwhelmed and unable to cope.

The fact that social scientists have consistently indicated that teaching is a stressful job would have gone a long way toward influencing the employer to have the services of an EAP available to all teachers. This service is free and highly confidential.

No one should feel ashamed to access the services of highly trained professionals to assist them with managing their emotional and mental health status. Unfortunately, this is an aspect of the job that many take lightly until it’s too late.

Thankfully the courts of the land have also recognised this and ruled that the vacation of the children is also the vacation of the teachers so that they can have time to recuperate and recharge.

Sadly though, many members of the public fail to recognise this dimension of the job and make disparaging and uninformed remarks about the amount of vacation teachers get.

Many teachers can’t wait to exit the service owing to the level of stress associated with the job, and TTUTA would have repeatedly been forced to propose to the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) that a teacher can retire from the service with full benefits after 25 years.

This proposal would have been staunchly rejected by the CPO, fearful that such adjustment in the regulations would lead to a mass exodus from the teaching service.

Many factors contribute to these feelings of burnout, exhaustion and ultimately stress and sometimes depression. Chief among them are the rising levels of student indiscipline, lack of parental support and even the antagonistic and adversarial attitudes adopted by many parents regarding the rights of their children and the increasing demands of the authorities to engage in paper work and reporting.

In many countries, such as the UK, these factors contribute to the exodus of large numbers of teachers within their first five years of entering the service.

Many teachers also perceive that the proverbial cards are stacked against them and they are fighting a losing battle.

When these feelings are married with the physical and mental tiredness experienced at this time of the year, teachers and school officials would be well cautioned to take the appropriate measures on an individual and collective basis to safeguard their mental and emotional well-being.

Failure to do this will result in dire consequences for self and school. Emotional and mental strength are preconditions to good teaching.

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