Stress Level of Teacher Sky-rockets Policies Should Attend to Teachers’ Stress Alleviation

PTU News Reporter

“The schools must be competing with each other in terms of who leaves the last. Teachers are often bringing work home. With the technology we have now, social media and Whatsapp brought more enquiries and work instructions for teachers, rendering them on duty 24/7, leaving them with no room for stress alleviation. ”

The above might have strike a chord among a lot of teachers.

The education sector, since the education reform, had experienced immense changes. The School-based management (SBM), for example, originally intended to allow more flexibility and autonomy in school’s daily operation. Such policy, however, resulted in the detachment of the government and the Education Bureau in school’s management, delegating numerous tasks originally to be carried out by the government to schools without increasing manpower appropriately. Teachers were burdened with non-teaching tasks, resulting in immense stress.

On top of the problem of manpower shortage, teachers are now also facing the problems of uncertainty in staff establishment brought by decrease in students, and contract teachers are struggling for permanent positions. Teachers are  now required to attend not only to demanding teaching duties, but also burdened with administrative and miscellaneous tasks. In order to catch up with daily tasks and progress, teachers are left with little means and time to attend to the needs of students. This often resulted in frustration and helplessness among teachers, leaving teachers with a sense of guilt for being unable to prioritize the growth of students in the first place, resulting in immense stress.

30 per cent of Teacher Report Moderate Severe to Severe Depression Symptoms

Concerned with the psychological health of teachers, the HKPTU had conducted several researches in the past, aiming to raise the awareness in the society and to leverage for improvements and changes in government policies. Earlier this month, together with the Division of Clinical Psychology of The Hong Kong Psychological Society, the HKPTU had released the results of the Teachers’ Work Stress Survey responded by 1836 teachers. Results showed that teachers in Hong Kong are generally experiencing immense stress, with close to 30 per cent of respondents reporting moderately severe to severe symptoms of depression, and more than 10% of them showed symptoms of severe depression, the most serious ones even reported thoughts of self-harm.

The survey confirmed that teachers’ working hours have a significant relationship with work stress. Among teachers who work for 50 hours or more per week, 80 per cent of them reported experiencing significant or immense stress. In this survey, more than 70 per cent of respondents are reported working 50 hours or above per week, and 30 per cent of them reported a staggering working time of 60 hours or above per week, an average significant higher than the median hours of Hong Kong employees, standing at an average of 44.3 hours. The results of the survey speak clearly of the predicaments faced by teachers: stress and long working hours.

Improving Staff Establishment to Stabilize Teaching Environment

Given the nature of education, emotional and psychological health of teachers matter because it affects the health of teachers, therefore the well being of students and the quality of teaching. Teachers can focus on the needs and differences of students, and to build relationships with students only when they can focus on their teaching duties. To realize such goal, the government is largely responsible for putting forward policy changes, off loading teachers from excessive teaching and administrative works; such include to reduce the class-teacher ratio, to expand the current teaching establishment, and to increase manpower specifically for maintaining administrative tasks at schools. Schools, on the other hand, should avoid utilizing contract terms in the employment of teachers as means of personnel management, allowing room for frontline teachers to work in a stable environment with sufficient support, and have enough time to better care of  students.

We call for our fellow teachers to take more notice to your own emotional needs when facing stress, and to develop coping skills that suit your own needs in daily lives. If you deem yourself to have reached the tipping point, seek professional help and advice as soon as possible to prevent the development of a vicious cycle of repetitive negative emotions induced by stress.