Who doesn't remember that one special teacher who kindled new insights or sparked dreams that opened new worlds for us?
Each year roughly 22,000 teachers leave the profession in South Africa. Considering that the number of teachers leaving annually is much higher than those entering the profession, this number is concerning.
This exit of teachers means that our country isn’t retaining enough teachers to meet the demand, and we are also not training enough new teachers to replace them. As we experience a national teacher shortage, we are seeing a linked decrease in the wellness of our teachers.
Educators weave the cloth of community with human thread. They shape the futures of millions of children each year, and through this, they shape societies and countries alike. With teachers being regarded as the essential drivers of our education system, we must support them to be holistically happy and healthy educators.
If the ultimate goal of education is to promote our children’s success, teacher well-being must be a central consideration. Yet, too often, the focus is on the marks achieved by our education system with little thought for their teachers.
Our teachers’ emotional well-being and capacity are often overlooked even though the greatest chance for increasing learner and societal success is by investing in the health, happiness, and wellness of those who teach.
Challenges contributing to educator burnout and dropout rates
At the pandemic’s start, there was a global sense of fellowship where humankind welled with a warm gleam of mutual respect and responsibility. Those on the frontline were cheered and revered, but were our teachers? Or are they the seemingly forgotten frontline heroes?
Committed and caring teachers represent a sizable segment of the workforce that kept working during the pandemic. Teachers were required to shift gears overnight in response to lockdown. They were expected to be ever-present and available at all hours, often tending to our children whilst simultaneously caring for their own families and children at home.
Post-Covid, with schools returning to total capacity, teachers are dealing with traumatized children who, in many cases, can no longer handle full time learning in overcrowded classrooms. Grade 3’s, for example, are experiencing full-time attendance for the first time in their lives and are needing far more help and attention. Unfortunately, this is resulting in dramatically higher rates of educator burnout.
The importance of in-person teaching is evident. Our children cannot thrive without the support of teachers and principals.
Many of our teachers work and live in the same community, making them highly visible. The pressure of being a community role model means teachers can never fully let their guard down. They need to remain professional at all times, both in and out of the classroom, allowing very little room to be fallible. Living behind the mask of ‘Teacher’ while struggling through the challenges of Covid has made exhaustion, anxiety and depression among educators more pronounced. Many teachers say they are so burned out that they may soon leave the profession earlier than planned.
KILT has developed teacher focused support
KILT’s Teacher Wellness project focuses on assisting our teachers to stay healthy and self-aware. The project includes three programmes that focus on wellness support to assist teachers in managing stress and developing resilience.
Recently 69% of teachers participating in the KILT Creative Wellbeing programme reported feeling more confident and less stressed about their work, lives and futures. In addition, 313 teachers and assistant teachers participated in our teacher-focused projects, resulting in a 68% direct teacher reach.
Even though teachers are exhausted and stressed they are still showing their devotion by participating in after school activities. In our most disadvantaged and overcrowded Knysna schools, KILT identified more than 78% of our after school programmes have teacher participation.
KILT is invested in our teachers and sponsors 124 posts, one in seven in local schools. These sponsored posts reduce the pupil to teacher ratio to 30:1. Without these additional posts, the ratio would be 35:1.
A quote from a teacher:
“Looking at how we grew up and all the challenges that we faced, I never thought that one day we would speak about these things and here we are – we are able to share our stories.”
Teacher well-being and support are critical to a meaningful education and to our children’s overall success and future.
Now more than ever, it is critical to remember and support the human essence of our educators, not just as a profession but as whole, healthy and happy beings. And above all else, we must not undermine the commitment that our educators demonstrated when they faced the greatest crisis of their careers.