Cape Town - Teachers at Cape Flats schools are stressed and burnt out - largely a result of assaults by pupils, gangsters entering the grounds with guns, and the death of pupils.

A recent study involving 63 teachers from four Cape Flats schools found that more than 65 percent of the participants suffered from high levels of stress and burnout.

Dr Sharon Johnson, who conducted the research for her doctorate in psychology at Stellenbosch University, said uncertainty about their roles, work overload and the unnecessary amount of red tape that teachers had to deal with also triggered stress and burnout.

Johnson, head of the department of teaching and learning at the SA College of Applied Psychology, said pupil discipline was the main reason for stress and burnout among participating teachers.

“Some classes have over 50 students with a poor work ethic and they are violent not only among themselves but also towards the teacher.

“With corporal punishment banned, educators have not been skilled enough to move from a punitive to supportive model of managing discipline.”

She said the trauma had a profound effect on teachers: “It affected their work on every level - physical exhaustion, emotionally unable to cope, depersonalisation, feeling isolated and a sense that their needs were not being met or understood. One teacher described his job as ‘survival’.”

Johnson said different workshops, which were held for the participating teachers, significantly improved their coping skills as well as their interactions with pupils. These included workshops which allowed for teachers to recognise and deal with their emotions and to process traumatic events such as the death of a pupil.

Teachers who attended at least one of the workshops all reported significantly reduced stress levels. After the exercises teachers felt more in charge and equipped to deal with problem children and started to take control of what was happening in the classroom.

“They started to realise that the change had to come from them as well as from pupils. While the Department of Education does indeed recognise the daily challenges facing teachers and devise realistic, practical solutions for factors impeding educators from delivering quality teaching, it needs to address stress-inducing working conditions, such as large classes and inadequate resources.”

Paddy Attwell, spokesman for the department, said the department encouraged staff to approach the Employee Wellness Service of the provincial government for advice and support in dealing with stress and personal difficulties.

“The service provides independent and professional counselling services free of charge to all employees. The service includes telephone and face-to-face counselling support, trauma counselling and support, and life-management services, including advice on legal and financial matters.

He said the department was constantly looking at ways of making it easier for teachers to focus on teaching rather than administration and human resource issues. - Cape Argus

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