Opinion Column

Teachers and the Impact of Covid-19: The Other Frontline Professionals

Published September 01, 2020

This column was published in La Tercera newspaper.

The educational disruption triggered by the Covid-19 has affected an unprecedented number of students worldwide (1.6 billion), widening the educational gap by leaving behind many students that do not have access to a computer or internet connection. UN Secretary General António Guterres stated that if the return to on-site classes does not happen soon, the consequences will be catastrophic, reversing decades of educational progress in many countries.

But, what has happened to the other frontline professionals in this crisis? Those are the teachers who had to adapt in practically no time to distance learning methodologies, often not having the tools to do so or the much necessary adaptation of the contents and challenged to face a school year marked by uncertainty. What is the impact generated at the personal level? How have they overcome the remote working format?

A comprehensive study on engagement and exhaustion among Chilean (2,657 polled), conducted by Fundación Chile last July, explored the impact of adaptation to the remote teaching format on teachers’ well-being, revealing an alarmingly low average level of engagement compared to the 2019 Annual Benchmark and the measurement made last April, both constructed through different worker profiles. Work engagement, or a state of positive activation characterized by high levels of energy, enthusiasm, and the feeling of being immersed in work is a good indicator of the degree of well-being at work. Low results, on the other hand, can have clear implications for peoples’ proactivity, creativity, performance, and productivity.

Similarly, the study revealed a high level of exhaustion, a feeling of wear and tear and chronic fatigue associated with stress, compared to the results of the Benchmark 2019 (2.61) and the Covid 2020 measurement. It is known that high levels of exhaustion over sustained periods of time can lead people to express clinical symptoms associated with Burnout Syndrome, reflected in chronic exhaustion, loss of personal effectiveness and disconnection from work goals.

It is important to consider that this new context has involved a high level of additional pressure for teachers, caused by technological stress and uncertainty regarding the domestic difficulties of students, as well as the advance of the pandemic, the difficulties of isolation and the health of their loved ones.

A significant fact of the study is that only 34.5% of the teachers surveyed feel they have received sufficient training and/or support for the use of technological tools (ICT) to pull the educational process through.

The inadequate handling of emotions appears as one of the main factors that trigger exhaustion in teachers. This shows that the current remote working conditions, in the context of the pandemic are causing a severe discomfort in people, where there is a lack of personal tools to deal with it. Before this scenario, it is essential to train work teams in self-care and effective recovery techniques to ensure maximum use of rest times, given the existence of spaces for disconnection and relaxation are basic pillars for effective recovery from work burnout. In this sense, it is critical to move towards educational dynamics that make this aspect visible and promote the much needed containment.

On the other hand, female teachers with children at home, have reported higher burnout levels. This shows that the cultural patterns associated with gender continue to be replicated in the context of remote working and the mandatory physical distancing, generating childcare related overload.

If we think that most of those who practice teaching are women (73%), we find ourselves with an important issue to address as a society, and not only from the educational system.

This data shows the important effect of the current situation regarding the work of educators and the difficulties they have had to face in order to adapt to a more challenging and demanding teaching modality. Although different types of professionals have had to make this adaptation, it seems that the effect has been most profound for the educational group.

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