Give teachers a say: Tackling teachers’ work-related stress during coronavirus

Female teacher in classroom sitting at table looking stressed

By Gabriele Marconi

Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

In many education systems and schools, routines and practices that were in place for decades have been changed overnight, overturned, updated, dismissed. New insights on the propagation and effects of coronavirus (COVID-19) routinely brought with them changes in the recommended ways for people to interact with each other. Education, which is based on human relationships, has been strongly affected, and so have the lives of millions of teachers, students, parents and school leaders all over the world. What will be the long-term effect of all this on teachers, and their willingness to stay in the teaching profession?

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, teacher shortages were a real prospect in many education systems. In a joint communication, UNESCO, the ILO, UNICEF Education International and the UNDP declared that about 70 million teachers will be needed worldwide by 2030. Many countries are now trying to recruit even more teachers to reduce teacher-student ratios and the size of classes, and some may want this change to be permanent.

The additional pressure that the current, worldwide upheaval of education is putting on teachers could have a negative effect on their willingness to stay in the profession

Yet, the additional pressure that the current, worldwide upheaval of education is putting on teachers could have a negative effect on their willingness to stay in the profession. Among teachers in OECD countries, experiencing a lot of work-related stress doubles the odds of expressing the intention to leave the profession within the next five years.

What can governments do?

The new requirements imposed in schools and education systems cannot be eliminated. They are needed to safeguard the health of students, parents and teachers themselves, and to guarantee at the same time the provision of education. However, even if they cannot reduce the pressure teachers feel, governments can improve their work environment and conditions. Analysis of data from the OECD’s international teacher survey, TALIS, suggests at least two factors that seem particularly relevant to the current context and which can significantly improve teachers’ satisfaction with their terms of employment, and in turn their willingness to stay.

Give teachers a say: Participating in school governance means having opportunities to shape the work environment, which is positively associated with teachers’ satisfaction with their terms of employment. Since teachers are called on to contribute to shaping the new educational environment, they should be given a say on how to implement the new requirements, at least for decisions at the school level. Besides improving the decision-making process itself, this can also make teachers feel more empowered and satisfied with the conditions of their work environment.

Support teachers’ continuous professional development: The material support teachers receive for training (e.g. financial incentives, reduction of teaching time) is an important determinant of teachers’ satisfaction with their terms of employment. These forms of support may be particularly welcome by teachers in the current situation, in which they have to absorb and master very quickly new, complex information on responding to health risks, changes in student behaviour and adapting teaching practices.

Motivated teachers make school systems strong. By supporting and empowering teachers during the coronavirus crisis and beyond, education systems will ensure they are well placed to mitigate learning losses and help drive the COVID-19 recovery.

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