International school teachers around the world continue to face considerable challenges as a result of the pandemic, which are impacting significantly on their wellbeing and forcing some to consider leaving their schools, the sector or the teaching profession.
In January this year, 275 international school teachers from 46 countries participated in my 66-question survey about their experiences since the start of the crisis. This in-depth survey represents a valuable opportunity to give international school teachers a voice and provide school leaders with an insight into the experiences and needs of their staff.
And what I found was pretty troubling — and essential reading for school leaders and managers who are keen to develop a happy, energetic workforce that wants to stay.
A total of 77 per cent of participants said their workload had increased since the start of the crisis, with 63 per cent working more than 46 hours per week and 30 per cent working in excess of 55 hours.
“There are aspects of the international school teachers’ experience that are unique and bring additional layers of challenge.”
I found that 80 per cent said their work-related stress levels had risen, with 77 per cent reporting stress levels as high, very high or extremely high. Interactions with students and senior leaders have proven to be the most stressful for teachers.
While the demands of increased workload and stress match those faced by educators in all sectors, there are aspects of the international school teachers’ experience that are unique and bring additional layers of challenge.
The survey found 69 per cent of participants reported that they had been unable to return to their home country over the past year to visit family and friends. A total of 66 per cent said they have felt lonely or isolated since the pandemic began and 22 per cent did not feel safe and supported in the country where they are living.
The combination of these factors has taken its toll on teachers’ personal and professional lives as well as on their physical and mental wellbeing.
- 62% reported that their work-related stress levels impacted negatively on their personal life
- 57% reported that their work-related stress levels impacted negatively on their health
- 45% said their stress has affected their ability to do their job well
- 20% reported the return of a pre-existing mental health condition or the diagnosis of a new condition in the past year
- 43% reported feeling symptoms of depression
- 75% reported feeling exhausted
- 72% reported feeling overwhelmed
- 61% felt they had come close to breaking point at some time during 2020
- 85% reported feeling concerned about the wellbeing of one or more colleagues
The levels of support that teachers have received from their schools gives some cause for concern. While 45 per cent of participants said they thought their school was doing its best to support them, only 30 per cent reported receiving enough practical support. Only just under a quarter felt they had enough guidance from school about mental health and wellbeing.
“It should be of great concern to school leaders that only two out of 10 teachers felt their workplace culture had a positive effect on their wellbeing.”
In making recommendations for moving through the remainder of the crisis, it is important to take heed of the kind of support that teachers said they would like to receive. The most requested types of support are wellness days/part days built into the schedule; modifications to working hours and conditions; paid mental health leave and external counselling paid for by school.
While these may not be achievable for many schools due to financial or contractual limitations, there are other, more accessible, types of support that teachers felt would be beneficial and schools should consider.
More than a third said they would value the opportunity to develop a personal wellbeing action plan, although very few reported having one already.
It should be of great concern to school leaders that only two out of 10 teachers felt their workplace culture had a positive effect on their wellbeing. Just over half have considered leaving their current school due to factors linked to the pandemic, while a third have considered leaving the international school sector.
This article provides a brief overview of the quantitative data available from the survey. A full report, including recommendations for teachers and school leaders is available at www.drhelenkelly.com.