Silhouette of a woman writing mathematical equations on a whiteboard.

Teacher Mental Health Another Pandemic Casualty

Recent research from the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) has revealed a stark decline in teachers’ mental health and wellbeing throughout the pandemic. Pamela Rogers, Director of Research and Professional Learning at the CTF and Lead Researcher on the studies, explains:

“I think teachers are very tired. They’ve taken on a lot of extra pressure, stress, anxiety, and work over the last couple of years which has brought them to a point of burnout—mentally and emotionally.” 

This is not a new problem, Rogers notes. Challenges like unmanageable workloads and negative public perceptions have existed long before the pandemic began. However, shifts between online, in-person, and hybrid learning—which were sometimes happening without warning—are pandemic specific.

Rogers describes that trying to keep up with shifting teaching modalities, as well as providing emotional support to students, were amongst the most draining types of work for teachers. Myra (name changed for anonymity), an elementary school teacher in Ontario, shares her experience:

“Learning the online platform with little training was challenging. I had to be 100% right away. Curriculum and workload expectations remain unchanged despite missed learning and teaching time and the extra stress of dealing with health and safety concerns. Students’ social-emotional needs have also increased.”

Arms and hands of a student over a desk and notebook as they look at a virtually-taught class by a female teacher on a computer screen.

For many teachers, there is a feeling that their voices are not being heard on issues of work overload and mental health pressures. Richard Ingersoll, Professor of Sociology and Education at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that this a common theme in the profession:

“Overall, teachers don’t have a lot of say in the key decisions that impact their job despite being the ones who are held responsible. The data are strong that the more voice teachers have into key decisions and dealing with problems, the much better retention, job satisfaction, and student achievement there is. My own hypothesis is that this is going to become an even bigger issue with the pandemic.”  

Despite there currently being limited research on the impacts of the pandemic, there is still a growing conversation around the world surrounding the mental health of teachers. Ava (name changed for anonymity), an art and drama high school teacher in Egypt, explains what has made a difference in her experience of teaching:

“This year, I have a principal that I feel treats me like a person first and a teacher second. In my other years of teaching, I’ve had administrators who I feel never thought of me as a person at all. Teaching is my job—it’s not me.”

Research suggests that teachers’ largest source of support are their colleagues, friends, and family. Rogers notes that there are also options for formal support available through the employer such as the Employee Assistance Program. However, accessing these services requires teachers to invest their own off-time. Rogers highlights this difficulty:

“A lot of teachers are saying, ‘Well, I don’t even have time to clean my house, grocery shop, or properly take care of myself or my family. I don’t feel like I have the time or additional energy to try to find a mental health professional and then follow through with it, even though it’s needed.’”  

Mental health is multifaceted, and as Rogers describes, can be impacted by issues existing at the societal level. These factors can place increased stressors on an individual, affecting their overall wellbeing. CTF’s internal document called the “Teacher Mental Health Check-in Survey: Black, Indigenous, Teachers of Colour, and 2SLGBTQ+ Segment Report” provides data to speak to this issue. Roger shares:

“75% of teachers who identified as Black, racialized, or Indigenous and over 80% of 2SLGBTQ+ teachers described themselves as having concerns about their mental health and wellbeing. In comparison, the national result was 70%. There is also an overall disparity in men and women identified participants as well.”

Female teacher wearing a mask covering her mouth and nose, in a classroom of young students also wearing masks, overlooking a young female student's work at her desk.

In order to support teachers, Rogers highlights the need for systemic change rather than assigning the responsibility on already overworked teachers. Rogers makes the following recommendations (which, as yet, have not been implemented):

“To start, there needs to be an increase in funding and access for teacher and student mental health services. There also needs to be a change in the extensive work being done outside of contract hours by prioritizing time for teacher preparation and assessment and adding more staff. Finally, create long-term policy and procedures to support teachers’ mental health and wellbeing at the school, board, and ministry levels. We have very little of this right now and it’s  especially necessary in times of crisis, like a pandemic.”

Despite the ongoing mental health crisis among teachers, they still report a deep passion for their work. During interviews, Rogers describes how teachers shared how much they still love their students and their profession.

-Chiara Gianvito, Senior Contributing Writer

Image Credits:
ThisIsEngineering at Pexels, Creative Commons
Julia M Cameron at Pexels, Creative Commons
Pavel Danilyuk at Pexels, Creative Commons