Counselling the Counsellor

Covid-19 Health Top Story

Mental health has taken a backseat for teachers dealing with the pressures of their work amidst the horrors of the second wave of Covid-19.

DELHI- The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on teachers’ mental health all across the country as the second wave of the pandemic has increased their work stress and burdened them with additional covid-related duties. 

Shivani Saini is a middle school teacher in Delhi where, for the past one year, she has been taking online classes. Her normal working day starts with the ping of the laptop opening and does not end till dusk. “This year has been very demotivating. The school is still cutting our salaries, which is unfair compared to the amount of work that we are expected to do.” She said that it is disheartening to hear the management say that they are not doing enough work when most times, they are given additional administrative work. The teachers are currently getting only 40 percent of their salaries.

Online classes do not give a respite to teachers as they are expected to work even more.
Credit-Shivani Saini

Saini also said that it has become increasingly difficult to balance home life and work life. Savita Singh who teaches at a design school in Mumbai said, “There is no sense of space for us. Many times, we are counselling the students but there is no one to counsel the faculty.” 

The Debilitating Fear

Teachers said that they are not only overworked but are in constant fear of contracting Covid, as many high school teachers had started going out since classes for IX and XI had started offline in February 2021. As the second wave began to ravage the county with rising cases, many private school teachers said that they were going to school till the lockdown was announced in May. 

Saraswati Sahoo, a teacher at MGM School in Rourkela, Odisha said that they were still being called to the school till the lockdown was announced. “The cases had started to rise in April. Many of the teachers got infected with the virus in my school. Even the non-teaching staff (clerks) started to get infected very quickly.” She said that they were taking all the precautions but there was always this fear in the back of our mind which was damaging to their mental health. Sahoo was isolating herself as she had recently developed a cold. In Odisha, the lockdown was announced on May 5, when the reported cases had reached around 8000 per day.

Many government teachers have been dealing with not only extra administrative work but other Covid-related duties. Satya Mohanty, a government school teacher in Rourkela said that they have been expected to teach as well as do other duties. “We have many border districts here like Malkangiri, which is at the Andhra border and Nuapada, which is at the Chattisgarh border. The teachers have been assigned duty to register the labourers entering through the borders.” He added that in other districts, teachers are getting assigned duties at the railway station or the crematoriums to register how many are being cremated. “All of this is obviously very stressful and puts the teachers at high risk,” Mohanty observed.

On May 1, over 700 government school staff died of Covid who were assigned panchayat poll duty in Uttar Pradesh. The panchayat polls were held in four phases between April 15 and 29; for around 850,000 local body seats. 

The Covid-related duties assigned to the government school teachers are mentally challenging with many getting infected and even succumbing to death.

Trupti Mohapatra, one of the supervisors of Anganwadi workers/teachers in the Sundargarh district, Rourkela, Odisha said that Anganwadi teachers have to conduct door-to-door surveys. “During the first wave, the teachers were given Rs 1000 along with sanitizers, gloves and masks. They have not been given anything in the second wave, but they are still working,” she added. Sundargarh district recorded nearly 2000 cases on May 7, the highest number of cases in the entire state with a 52.44 percent positivity rate. “Many Anganwadi teachers are dying. Even supervisors are dying. As government employees, we do not have a choice but do the duty that has been assigned to us. But because of us, our families are also not safe.” Mohapatra and her family have now tested positive for Covid. 

Swati Patra, Professor of Psychology at the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) said, “The expectation from the teachers is that they have to deliver. It was the same pre-Covid and remains as such even now in many schools. This is one of the stressors since it is the teacher’s responsibility to see that the students perform well.” She added that the two-way interaction which used to be there has not been possible which also affects the mental state of the teachers. “The aspect of self-care is very important. We have to address the well-being of the frontline workers. The system has to look at this particular aspect. Schools should arrange counsellors or even workshops to address the mental well-being of the teachers,” said Patra.