Liina Kersna: A teacher's glass needs to be full

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Liina Kersna. Source: Rain Kooli/ERR

People who in one way or another engage in helping others tend to burn out faster. And teachers burning out is already a serious problem today, Liina Kersna writes.

Education studies show that a content and confident teacher provides students with a sense of security that is vital for their development. A student who maintains a close and trusting relationship with their teacher is more successful. A teacher who is under stress also has stressed-out students, with the process of passing on and obtaining knowledge becoming largely seeming.

What could we do to help teachers be happy and feel valued in their work?

In addition to hiking salaries, it is also important to modernize teachers' working environment and conditions. We have given teachers a lot of tasks, while working conditions have not always kept up with them. Let us recall that schools employ top specialists who are in charge of the development of our children on a daily basis.

Valuing a pedagogue's professional judgment and right to make decisions is vital. If a teacher says that they need support or time to make preparations, it is up to the school manager to trust them and facilitate.

We should also go over the amount of bureaucracy we expect our teachers to handle. Should a teacher be required to file annual work plans and reports if we trust them? Let us free teachers to concentrate on our children in the place of reports.

OECD studies suggest that teachers also benefit from working with colleagues. Teachers feel better in schools where cooperation between teachers is consciously developed by way of time planning, creating a favorable environment, urging teachers to attend one another's classes and share practices and by providing feedback. This is especially important today when a lot of schools are forced to practice teaching remotely.

Teachers' workload and responsibility are at times inhuman. Teachers' class load need to be reduced and capped at 18 contact lessons.

Professor Margus Pedaste suggested capping it at 15 contact lessons, while representatives of subject associations proposed 16 lessons during a Riigikogu discussion of the topic as a matter of national importance.

Representative of the latter Madis Somelar said that one-third of a teacher's working time is spent on lessons and two-thirds on other tasks.

We cannot leave teachers alone with their problems

Data from the OECD suggests that countries sporting successful education systems tend to have large classes, while they also have more teachers per student. A class of 37 students could ideally have three adults.

Teachers need to be given the chance to notice students and react. Our classes are clearly short on assistant teachers. And what is more – assistant teachers need pedagogical training to avoid a situation where teachers end up teaching both students and assistant teachers.

Availability of necessary support staff is one of the more important preconditions for teacher satisfaction. Let us imagine ourselves in the role of a teacher standing before 30 children. We know that a fifth (or even a third according to some estimates) of students need special support in school in one way or another. Teaching children with special educational needs also places greater responsibility on teachers as mistakes born out of ignorance could have serious and lasting consequences.

Teaching kids with special needs requires specific know-how and skills that many of today's teachers have not been taught. A survey from a few years ago saw 75 percent of general school teachers admit they miss refresher training.

Teachers often have nowhere to turn for help as schools lack support specialists. Educational institutions in Estonia are still short on special pedagogues, psychologists, social pedagogues and speech therapists. The few specialists that schools have are overburdened.

Statistics suggests that only 36 percent of schools have a school psychologist, while a single school psychologist is in charge of 820 students. Ideally, we could have a psychologist for 200-300 children.

Psychological counseling is necessary not just for students. Teachers must also have access to it because, as stated before, only a content and motivated teacher can create the kind of trusting relationship necessary for learning.

On funding

An OECD study suggests 40 percent of Estonian teachers are considering leaving inside the next five years, mainly because their salary does not compare to those of other highly educated specialists. While the salaries of our teachers have been growing among the fastest in the OECD, they nevertheless remain ahead only of Latvia's.

It is the state's task to ensure a motivating salary system that would inspire teachers to contribute to the field in general. We expect our teachers to prepare inspiring lessons, learn new methods and perfect themselves, develop their subject and work with colleagues, while we still pay them largely based on contact lessons.

The state's words and actions do not match here. This is called hypocrisy.

If we want our children to be smart and happy, we need to value and care for our teachers. We should not ask whether a teacher's glass is half full or half empty. It needs to be full to make sure teachers want to stay and come to school to teach.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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