STRESS: A pandemic in its own right in teaching? The after-effects of Covid-19

Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith

Published: March 7th, 2022

6 min

Undoubtedly, everyone has been affected in some way over the course of the past 2 years as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. When the order was issued to work from home, some people were of course able to work from home, thereby reducing the risk of contracting the virus, however, many people were key and frontline workers who had to still travel to their place of work and were therefore more at risk of contracting the virus. One group that falls into the latter category, is teachers.

It is well known that the teaching profession has always been a very demanding job with high workloads and long hours. Add to this an unprecedented pandemic and it is no wonder that many teachers are suffering from exacerbated stress, burnout, anxiety and other mental health difficulties at record levels. Research carried out by NASUWT has found that eight in ten teachers feel their job "has adversely affected their mental health" with three in ten teachers having sought professional medical help "to help with the detrimental impact on their mental and physical health".

The Covid-19 pandemic saw schools across the country close their doors with very little notice, meaning that lessons plans (which had been prepared weeks or even months in advance), now had to be altered to take into account teaching from home, via a computer screen. However, not all children were able successfully carry out their school work from home. Some may not have had the resources and/or equipment and some were the children of other key and frontline workers who wouldn't have had an adult at home during the day. As a result, some teachers were also expected to come into school to provide lessons to these children, on top of home learning.

Not only did teachers have to navigate this new way of teaching, providing academic and emotional support online but they also had to cope with their own personal worries and stress born out of the pandemic. Teachers reported numerous additional causes of stress including: children not engaging through home learning; worrying about the safety of colleagues, children, friends and family members; worrying about the safety of going back into school; the workload increasing to prepare both online and in person teaching materials and not having a sufficient amount of downtime to relax and more. Within the first year of the pandemic, 65% of educational professionals reported that their stress levels had increased.

It is therefore clear that the entire teaching profession, was under very high levels of stress dealing with the challenges of adapting to teaching in a pandemic.

However, we are now in the phase of 'Living with Covid-19'. One of the reasons for the newly issued government guidance, was as a result of the pandemic having caused a significant adverse impact on learning, with those students from disadvantaged backgrounds being affected greater. The government determined that to reduce this detrimental impact on education, as a society, we had to get back to 'normality' to ensure there were no further impacts on education.

Due to the increased exposure many teachers faced throughout the pandemic with limited PPE, unfortunately, many contracted the virus, prior to vaccines being made available and when relatively little was known about how to treat the virus. A number of teachers have reported that they are suffering from long Covid - a new illness arising out of the pandemic, where there is limited knowledge regarding its effects and its duration, which further impacts on already stretched education providers. As research is developing with regards to long Covid, it is important that both teachers and their employers keep communication lines open and employers seek support and advice from occupational health, at an early stage. It is also worth keeping in mind that disgruntled employees suffering from long Covid, are more likely to consider their options in terms of claims against their employer, for any potentially unnecessary exposure.

Education providers are likely to see significant benefits in seeking to improve the mental health of their employees. Recognising that staff are all under significant pressure and seeking ways to alleviate that pressure as far as possible, is likely to minimise the likelihood of future staff absences and potential claims that may come from serious incidents of stress. This is without considering the significant benefits it is likely to have in terms of teaching outcomes.

Sadly, it seems unlikely that additional funding will be made available to support these outcomes, so education providers should look at what they can do now and what their financial circumstances will allow to alleviate this problem. If education providers don't take action, the long term costs are likely to be far more significant.

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