The Malta Independent 23 January 2020, Thursday

Teachers on fire: the heat, the burnout and the recharge

Wednesday, 26 June 2019, 09:39 Last update: about 8 months ago

Michaela Camilleri is a final year student at the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences at the University of Malta

Now that summer is here again, most children are ecstatic that school is almost out. As are the teachers. They have the three whole summer months off with full pay, right? What's not to like? A topic for discussion for many, that has been gaining tract at the moment. Or rather, whenever teachers decide to stand up for their rights.

What needs to be appreciated is the energy and effort present in schools. You hear many parents claiming that children drain parents' energy at home. Now consider a whole class, with roughly 25 students each, all with their own backgrounds and requirements. Parents entrust, on a daily basis, the most cherished treasure a family could have, their kids, into the hands of educators.  It is not however a question of just looking after the kids. It is a place for learning.

Moreover, teachers' decisions are questioned in a way decisions made by other professionals are not. Everyone thinks that since they once used to be seated at a school desk, they know the system and how works.

Expectations among parents, however, vary.  Teachers said that parents put pressure on schools to resolve issues such as bullying. Even when this happens after school, while children are using their mobile phones and computers. How can teachers resolve issues that are not happening under their supervision, when parents can't even monitor their own kids at home?

Another issue that cropped up when talking to teachers, was about the homework they assign. One teacher said that parents express their differing opinions of what amount of homework is adequate. While some argue that they have too much homework, other parents of students in the same class believe, they should be given more - with comments being "Naf li diġa ittihom ħowmwerk, pero jekk ittihom iktar, inżommuhom okkupati u jagħmluh għax tkun tajtulhom inti!". Does this imply that parents are unable of keeping their own kids occupied and revising? And are teachers supposed to accommodate all parents' expectations, disregarding their own professional judgements? At the end of the day, teachers are judged by the work given out throughout the year, and how well the students perform in different assessment procedures.

Many teachers emphasize the fact that the teaching part of their jobs is the easiest part. The contact with students during class, is just but the tip of the iceberg of the whole teaching experience. Other out-of-class and after school duties would not make this possible. Educators need to plan daily lessons, review, correct and mark the work done by students. They need to keep in mind educational changes and cater for the different class and student strengths and needs. Duties, beyond school hours, that do consume hours, and that society doesn't seem to consider when thinking of a teaching career.

The controversy whether teachers have it easy or not, has been trending on online platforms. In response to a post written that overlooked teachers' agreed conditions of work, one user commented:

"Have you ever had to deliver a presentation at work? How long does it take you to prepare for an hour's presentation? Two hours? Two days? One week? Well, imagine having to do 25 presentations in the same week. Try it."

Educators feel they are experiencing a general lack of respect from students, parents and society at large.

While there are parents and parts of society that do recognize teachers' dedication and work, others demine the profession completely. It is regarded as a cushy job, with a few working hours in comparison to other jobs, and having lots of holidays. Yet, statistics clearly show that those opting to go in for teaching as a career in itself, are drastically waning.

And to be completely honest, who in the right frame of mind, would opt to stop at teaching a subject when they could further explore their passion and delve into it as a career, whilst being paid much more? Unless of course, they are genuinely motivated, dedicated and regard teaching as a vocation...

One mother complained that her son in early years, has not had a class teacher since January, after his teacher was on maternity leave. The situation was remedied by the use of different student teachers - at an age where a constant point of reference is essential. If we are already facing a general lack of human resources when it comes to primary school and core subject teachers, how are we going to cater for the new vocational and applied subjects coming September?

Even though we have incentivized the B.Ed course to now include a Masters qualification and the opportunity it offers for it to be used abroad, since few are opting for this career, we are having to make do with supply teachers that as a requirement, need just an A Level qualification. A retired teacher, well beyond retirement age, jokingly pointed out that she has been recalled for work as a Physical Education Teacher.

And while we're at it, teachers' salary leaves much to be desired. "Yes, you've tried Mr. Bonnici and Hon. Bartolo to elevate and recognize teachers' situation, but you're not the ones in the trenches, facing the ever-increasing daily challenges that teachers do", an educator said.

The increase in the amount of paperwork has become bureaucratic. A secondary school teacher mentioned that the exaggerated detail required for Schemes of Work have in themselves become like the Lesson Plans. That being said, the teacher must remain flexible and adapt the lessons, according to the way students react to the material presented to them, disregarding the plan, and updating it at a later stage. A teacher in a government middle school, said she goes beyond her mandate and helps to relieve the load of paperwork that accumulates when clerical staff that retired or terminated were not replaced. 

Another issue that some teachers mentioned was that for school supply purchases that exceed as little as €30, a minimum of three quotes need to be presented before the final go ahead. While accountability is encouraged, going from one supplier to another, when previous purchases have proved the price and quality reliability of a particular supplier, is a waste of time, at the teacher's expense.

As mentioned, it is not the teaching itself that drains the teachers as it does the kids, who need to focus on what they're being taught. Other issues crop up. With the ever-changing societal demands, what teachers are facing nowadays does not compare with what their job was in the past. Children's backgrounds have changed so much to what older generations dealt with, that some schools have become or try to cater for students' most basic needs as if it were their home.

Now back to those holidays... The kids might have three full months. But the teachers don't. They keep on working up till mid-July and go back in, in mid-September. The period in between involves attending preparatory meetings and courses, and preparing resources for the upcoming year. LSEs meet with their students, get themselves familiar with their conditions and requirements, and prepare activities adapted to their needs. Why do we perceive the remaining actual holidays to be a big deal, when other professions can take leave, and at a stretch, with much less restrictions?

So, when teachers decide to take action, whether it is striking and not going in for work or stop doing the tasks they usually do but aren't recognised for it - just like other professions can and do - it shouldn't be a question of "Issa dan sew? U aħna x'ser nagħmlu bit-tfal?".  We should instead help reinforce the network that holistically develops our future generations.  

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