Critical need for teacher wellbeing

2019-10-08 06:00
Teachers of Christian Davids Moravian Primary School in Coniston Park learn how to de-stress.PHOTO: Thaabit Jacobs

Teachers of Christian Davids Moravian Primary School in Coniston Park learn how to de-stress.PHOTO: Thaabit Jacobs

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As the fourth and final school term kicked off, Wise (Wellbeing in Schools and Education) has placed the spotlight on teacher wellbeing and the high levels of stress in the classroom during this end-of-year examination time.

International stress tests have revealed significantly high levels of stress among South African teachers, with many reporting burn-out, especially in schools in disadvantaged communities. “There’s a desperate need for morale upliftment and motivation in these schools, not only at this time of year but all year round. Over and above the jam-packed curriculum, a big challenge for these teachers is keeping spirits up when faced with the harsh realities of community problems,” says Carol Surya, psychologist and Wise co-founder.

Wise, a non-profit organisation (NPO), has been active in schools across the Cape Flats since 2017, offering mindfulness tools to school children to include yoga, dance and self-esteem games. Since working in these schools, the organisation has increasingly noticed the high levels of stress of teachers and the impact this can have in the classroom.

“We continue to see a need for teacher wellbeing. People don’t realise how overwhelmed they are and how this can play out negatively in the classroom with aggressive outbursts. Sadly, many of the children they teach come from extremely vulnerable backgrounds, and don’t even have parents. Teachers are having to play the role of both educator and caregiver which takes a massive toll,” says Surya.

Teachers of Christian Davids Moravian Primary School in Coniston Park recently participated in a Wise teacher wellbeing workshop and reported feeling calmer and more positive afterwards.

The school’s principal, Tina Steyn, approached the NPO when she realised how demoralised the teachers are. “The fourth term is a very strenuous time for both learner and educator. It’s hard for a teacher to keep positive when they work in these kinds of harsh situations day in and out. Our learners are very poor and come from broken homes with gang violence being a major concern. I believe a happy teacher equals a happy school,” she said.

The programme is designed around positive psychology-based techniques that teach self-care and mindfulness. The tools used include mindful breathing, yoga, and Biodanza dance.

Steyn reported after the workshop that the staff realised the value of self-care and had a refreshed understanding of how their actions and attitude has a direct influence on the learner’s behaviour in the classroom.

Wise is currently working on expanding its teacher training workshops so they can reach more educators across South Africa.

Surya shares her tips to help both learners and educators stay calm during the stressful exam period:

. Deep breathing – Slow, deep breathing instantly reduces stress symptoms, by bringing more oxygen into the body.

. Chill time – Make sure to set aside even five to 10 minute breaks during studying, teaching and marking to rest and replenish. In this chill time do not check your phone or think about the next task.

. Drink water – Make sure to keep hydrated by drinking water; usually eight glasses per day is recommended.

. Get moving – Even a few minutes of stretches, a vigorous walk or dancing to your favourite song can make a big difference to relieve your stress.

. Get positive – Make a point of thinking and repeating positive statements to yourself about your stressful situation.

. Plan ahead – When you stick to a schedule for studying or getting through the workload, your mindset is automatically more at ease and better equipped to manage the stress you may be facing.

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