Closed classrooms. Students at home. From blackboards to laptop screens. Teachers experience 'burnout' just like students and parents do.
The Philippine education system is likewise "under attack," as signs of burnout among educators jeopardize learning continuity, much as the healthcare system is overwhelmed by the spike in COVID-19 cases.
According to a UNICEF report released in August 2021, the Philippines is one of five countries in the world that have not started start in-person lessons since the epidemic began, affecting the access to quality education of almost 27 million Filipino students.
While we often hear about the difficulties that parents and kids have with online learning, it is an undeniable fact that teachers also have struggles.
From the development of lesson plans to the conduct of courses and the distribution of assignments and tasks, teachers must guarantee that the quality of learning is maintained even in the absence of face-to-face experiences.
Little is known on how teachers cope with the challenges of the new normal, now is the time to recognize teachers and hear their struggles in another academic year of schools being closed.
1. Expecting students to be more self-directed
To contain the virus from spreading, schools were closed and students stayed at home. The teaching and learning process has abruptly shifted from face-to-face interaction to distance learning via online and modular platforms.
Ana Lyn Tabocolde, 38, Senior High School Teacher tells that the first academic year of distance learning is very difficult, it seems like trial and error for us teachers and the learners. It is challenging on how to reach out to learners who find it difficult to understand the lessons on their own.
“As a teacher, the first thing that comes to my mind was, will the students be okay learning on their own? Even in [traditional] face-to-face classes before I know that it's sometimes hard for them to learn, what about now? How will their parents teach them while they are busy finding money to provide for their family's needs?" Tabocolde said.
She further adds that during the distribution of learning modules in the cluster Barangays for the parents to receive, she would often hear them telling her, "How can we teach our children and how can we answer their questions if we are not capable and cannot understand the lesson?" and this was heartbreaking for her as a teacher.
"Social media platforms like Facebook Messenger, Google Meet, and Zoom were also of great help for me to discuss lessons to the learners and answer their queries but were very limited. Only those learners who are willing to communicate with me are the only ones who can receive the explanation and most of the time these learners are also the "bright ones". How about those who were not asking? There were times that we have to home visit just to reach them but still it seems like it is not enough," Tabocolde said.
2. Remote Teaching Burn-out
Meanwhile, Domibe Marie Tabuada, 23, a Special Education Teacher dealing children with special needs at Children Explore Integrated Learning Center. She shares that it is very challenging to deal with the needs of the pupils before the pandemic and the COVID 19 made it even more serious.
Educating young minds, inspiring pupils, and making personal contributions in their lives can be a beautiful and gratifying job. But on some other days, it can be tiring, exhausting, and thankless.
"In distance learning, I experience a lot of problems. I did a lot of preparations as our school offers blended learning modalities. We do our prerecorded lessons daily for those who opted for modular classes. Aside from the modular class, we also online classes. So every day I have also online an online class session and I need to send our worksheets ahead of time to prepare and to let the parents prepare and print worksheets during our live online class." Tabuada said.
She also said that sudden changes in school activities seriously affected teachers like her such as the inability to concentrate on working hours because of the sleepless nights she had when preparing lessons and the headache, eye strain, and back pains by stress from overworking.
In an online survey conducted by ACT (Alliance of Concerned Teachers), the eight-hour work "rule is widely violated," with 41% of teachers in Metro Manila and 29% of those outside Metro Manila saying they are "working for 9 hours to 16 hours and beyond on class days." Teachers also do "extended hours of work" in addition to the eight-hour work day.
3. Connectivity issues
Amid the COVID 19 pandemic, a recent study by a member of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) revealed that access to the internet remains a serious difficulty for 28,859 teaschers across the country.
Self-learning modules were used as a remote teaching modality by 90% of teachers polled at all levels. Interactive online activities (synchronous or asynchronous) were, on the other hand, only experienced by less than 30% of the respondents.
Internet connectivity is still a major challenge in many remote areas of the Philippines, and thus, non-online modalities became the prominent form of education delivery in the 'new normal.
Unfortunately, because of our teachers' low salaries, they must deduct this from their pay.
"I have no choice but to upgrade to a more expensive connection at home from a meager salary because of the poor internet connectivity we have when using mobile data so that I can attend meetings, trainings, and submit online reports required by the department, which are frequently needed as soon as possible and straight away," Seguiban said.
4. Poor Parental Involvement
Students learn best when the significant adults in their lives specifically their parents, teachers, other family and community members work together to encourage and support them. This basic fact should be a guiding principle as we think about how schools should be organized and how students should be taught especially in this pandemic situation.
With children currently unable to attend school, the significance of learning at home is heightened, and the burden of supporting children's learning has shifted to parents. This is a big hardship, especially for people who work remotely and have inadequate educational backgrounds.
According to Vivian Valle, 29, a Junior High School Teacher, schools alone cannot address all of the student’s developmental needs. The meaningful involvement of parents is essential.
"One of the major problems I have encountered last school year 2020-2021 was poor parental involvement. Of course, there are factors why parents had poor involvement in student's learning. Some parents are busy because of their jobs, that's the reason why they were not able to get the modules, Valle said.
She further adds that, as a result, the submission of their modules was also delayed and students will be forced to answer the modules good for two weeks which is very heavy for the students to accomplish within a week. Another factor is lack of knowledge. We can't deny the fact that there are parents who are elementary or secondary graduates and it was hard for them to help to facilitate the learnings of their children.
What can we do?
The government and the Department of Education should work hand in hand to solve this problem and not just provide band aid solutions. Programs like additional allowances for the needs of teachers such as: risk allowance, internet allowance and provision of gadgets to be used for educational modalities should also be considered. More importantly, salary increase should also be pushed. Teachers are undeniabaly overworked and underpayed. It is important also to have initiatives focusing on mental health to provide support for teachers who experience stress from work and burnout.
Furthermore, parents and relatives can make a significant contribution to reducing the problem of distance learning. Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) are doing advocacy programs on how uncapable parents can be skilled to teach through webinars. Online and modular classes are not conducive for learning which is why as we try to reopen schools; the government should also give concrete and substantial solutions about this problem. Knowing that children are the most vulnerable, we must reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible.
We, the youth can also do small acts of kindness by being a volunteer in teaching children to help parents and teachers who struggle to educate in this difficult time. While we call for #NoStudentLeftBehind, we should also advocate development programs for Filipino teachers who are overworked and under supported. We must work together and call for #AcademicEase.
Teachers are the unsung heroes of this crisis, let us not romanticize resiliency. Stand with them by being part of the solution.