A few days ago I was tidying my bookshelves when I came across two books which I bought the last time I visited the UK, in 2006. Both books are about teacher wellbeing and how to deal with the stress of teaching. The books were then newly published, and I guess teacher wellbeing (along with how to help boys do better academically) was a hot topic in the UK at the time.
My work includes working with part-time students who are fulltime teachers. In the last few years, I have witnessed how increasingly excessive workload has taken its toll on teachers, many of whom come to evening class physically exhausted, and emotionally strained. I bought the two books with the hope of finding a few useful tips that I could use in my work to cheer them up a little. Although helping teachers deal with stress is, strictly speaking, not my immediate professional responsibility, I value good teaching, and I believe that teachers have to feel good about themselves and their work before they can teach well.
But when I came across these two old, new books that I bought in 2006, I realised I had never touched them again. Due to my other priorities, I had kept them buried in the stacks of books on my bookshelves.
Four and a half years have passed, and if in 2006, I found teachers in Hong Kong over-stressed, has the situation improved since then?
Absolutely not. In fact, it has even got worse.
And I’m pessimistic that the situation will ever improve. This is because we now live in a world that blindly worships ‘progress’, league tables, competition, winning, reputation … Human beings’ own needs keep being depleted. Teachers won’t get much sympathy from society when they complain about work stress; they will only be met with this chorus from society: WHO ISN’T UNDER A LOT OF STRESS?
As if being over-stressed was normal.
Within a workplace, whether it is a school, a bank, or an investment business, how often do the boss and the senior administrators care about its staff’s physical and emotional wellbeing? How often do they design and allocate work that doesn’t burn out its staff quickly, and that enables them to work happily?
I know my suggestions will sound crazy to almost everyone in present-day society. People will say: This is work! What do you expect from work?
But aren’t we all crazy? Today, we spend a large part of our life working. Yet, we treat burnout and stress and depression as normal. We should be smarter than people who lived during the Industrial Revolution. And we should be able to design jobs and workplaces that allow us to enjoy our work. And yet, we never bother to do so.
Today, schools have annual plans that have goals that increase in number year by year. Yet, when will I be able to see an annual plan that includes teacher wellbeing as a major goal?
I must be daydreaming again.