Reports show almost half of serving teachers have considered leaving the job due to stress, burnout and other mental health issues brought on by ever-increasing workloads.
And this worrying trend has implications beyond just teacher health, with the Australian Council of Deans of Education predicting a huge shortage of teachers within three or four years, as more teachers abandon the profession.
Recognising this, the Australian Catholic University has launched a first of its kind in Australia course to tackle this issue at its source.
The University’s ‘Graduate Certificate in Mental Health for Teachers and Educators’ course will be available online from this year as a post-graduate qualification for teachers who will be given a foundational knowledge of the factors that surround, impact, and influence mental health and wellbeing over the many different stages of their teaching career.
One aim of the course is to ask teachers to reflect on why they came into teaching in the first place – and often it’s related to this idea that teaching is a vocation with a spiritual dimension. The units are structured to reignite that fire and to help teachers to locate it once again.
Dr Debra Phillips, who developed the course, said the demands of delivering classes during the pandemic had brought to a head the ongoing crisis in teacher mental health.
“There is an awareness that well-being is the result of the inter-relationship of the psychological, social and emotional components of mental health,” Dr Phillips told The Educator.
“The course offers online, weekly self-paced academically rigorous activities that develop and build knowledge, understanding and skills about these components and the psychosocial factors surrounding teacher-specific mental health and burnout.”
Dr Phillips said the activities require cognitive engagement with deep thinking, reflecting and conjecturing for other possibilities.
“Becoming knowledgeable about psycho-social triggers and environmental stressors enables teachers to identify and articulate what is happening to their selves and their colleagues,” she said.
While there have been national and international courses for teachers to respond to students’ mental health issues at school level, and either one-off full day courses for teachers on their own mental health there is limited information about national or international post graduate courses that are specifically designed for teachers to respond to their specific school/education situation and their particular needs.”
Dr Phillips said the four-unit Graduate Certificate specifically targets the development of professional, collegial, collaborative practice to reflect the most salient preventative and protective factor for mental health – social networks.
“The development and retention of social networks [personal and professional] at school level is emphasised and can be used by principals, senior and middle-management executives to strengthen mental health,” she said, adding the course examines in terms of mental health, why social relationships are a key factor, and encourages the participants to examine where and how strategies can be offered in their schools.
“Direction towards change at principal and senior executive level is instrumental in fostering a cultural shift towards recognising that teachers’ mental health is a necessary component of student achievement.”