World Teachers’ Day has been celebrated annually since 1994, commemorating the 1966 International Labour Organisation/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers including their rights and responsibilities.
World Teachers’ Day is an important day to recognise the crucial role our teachers play in the lives of students and the wider development of society as a whole.
The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future’. This is, in part, a well-deserved acknowledgement of the way teachers all over the world have tackled the new challenges brought about by the COVID-19 situation. However, it also represents a call to recognise how teachers continue to struggle with these challenges and what can be done to support them in this unprecedented task.
Associate Professor in Education, Narelle Lemon, is one of the many academic staff members facing these challenges and emphasises the importance of self-care during this time.
“Teaching is a caring career. So many people are attracted to it because they want to see the best in others, help them flourish and support and facilitate growth in young people,” says Associate Professor Lemon.
“But there is a cost to that, and we know that teachers often put others before caring for themselves. We forget to be self-compassionate to ourselves: to fill our own cup. We have to make sure we are functioning well as teachers before we can really care for someone else in a way that doesn’t deplete us – we can give everything to everyone else, but nothing to ourselves. That is not sustainable.”
According to Associate Professor Lemon, it is crucial for teachers to set aside some time for self-care to replenish the valuable energy spent on helping their students to learn and grow.
“I believe in supporting our teachers and anyone really, to develop a toolbox of resources that gives them several strategies they can call upon from a broad range of different areas that energise them, make them feel good, and help them to flourish.”
Adapting to a new normal
Despite the many challenges brought about by COVID-19, Associate Professor Lemon’s recent research highlights the positive side of these impacts for both individual teachers and the collective.
Responses collected between March and May this year from teachers show that new ways to communicate and connect with team members have been established, which has supported an enhanced sense of belonging among the cohort.
Further, teachers reported an appreciation of the capabilities of their students, many of which have thrived in the remote and flexible learning environment. This of course has been supported through the ever-advancing digital technology, which has enabled teachers to do their jobs successfully from the comfort of their own homes.
In addition, the findings indicated new connections have been established with parents and guardians of children; empathising with one another under the current circumstances and uniting to ensure that their children receive the best support possible.
Lastly, a bonus of this experience has been no commute to and from work, which has saved teachers sacred hours of the day they would usually spend in peak hour traffic, instead spent on self-care and quality interactions with their loved ones.
In 2019, Associate Professor Lemon received a National Teaching Citation awarded by Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) for sustained development of curricula and resources to support the integration of social media into initial teacher education to benefit student learning and engagement. She has recently co-published a book entitled “Building and Sustaining a Teaching Career: Strategies for Professional Experience, Wellbeing and Mindful Practice”, which delves deeper into these issues and helps equip pre-service (student) teachers for a healthy and fruitful teaching career.