The popular misconception out there is teaching is easy and less stressful generally because teachers have a short working day – 8am – 2pm. The reality is teachers, despite a short working day, have loads of work to do even outside school hours. Teachers spend weekends planning not less than thirty lessons and preparing teaching and learning materials for each of the lessons. With school supervisors’ focus on work output, teachers have to give more coursework and spend hours marking. Teachers in many primary schools in the country are taking larger classes. As a result, they have to spend extra hours in school after closing to finish marking because the timetable is packed with little or no time for that. Those who would not want to spend extra time in school marking have only the option of foregoing their breaks to do so.
Aside from the academic works; school years are dotted with many co-curricular activities that teachers must ensure they find extra time to prepare their learners for participation. They are also expected to be guidance and counseling ‘experts’ in our schools, providing counseling services to learners. There are much other paperwork and administrative activities, coupled with series of meetings that are top bugbears. Several studies show that half of the teachers’ time is spent on non-teaching tasks. Often, this overload is underrated by society and even education supervisors and policymakers.
Recent discussions at several international education forums have brought teachers’ excessive workload to center stage as having negative impacts on teacher recruitment and retention, and teaching and learning. In Ghana, the annual teacher attrition is 7,000. One cannot discount the unbearable workload in the profession as a common reason.
Some countries have seen the need to respond positively to the situation to promote quality education. In Germany, for instance, the government signed an agreement, a seven-point plan designed to create time for teachers and heads to improve the standard. Some other countries have marking policies that aim at reducing the works teachers do. In countries like Finland, where teachers are given enough autonomy, they’re allowed to build the timetable that suits them while still delivering a broad and balanced curriculum. It was my expectation (and I believe also of some observers of the industry) that the recent reform would take into account the well-being of teachers and look at possible ways of reducing their workload. Sadly, it has instead increased it. Teachers now have more subjects to teach than previous. Their closing time has been extended. The number of daily lesson plans is not less than fifty for a week. In addition to the daily lesson plans, they’re first to write weekly lesson forecast aside the yearly one.
We must understand that any successful education reform depends heavily on well-trained and motivated human resources, and I believe the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ghana Education Service (GES) know so. But the reform ignored that. Increasing teachers’ workload instead of reducing it is counterproductive. More works do not lead to teacher efficiency because they are demoralizing and lead to the professional burn out and raise mental health concerns. As Estelle Morris said, “A tired teacher is not an effective teacher. Nor is that allowed to focus on what is most important – teaching”. The increase in the number of subjects of study is not ideal. I genuinely believe we could have used the opportunity to reduce them to five or six (which is possible). That would have freed the teaching timetable for effective teaching and learning and as well reduce teachers’ workload. Perhaps that is too late. So, what else can we do to remove unnecessary workload on teachers for them to focus on supporting their learners and their personal development?
One, teachers must be provided with teaching and learning materials to reduce the time they spend preparing that. Two, there should be an alternative to the daily lesson plans. We can learn from some international schools here in Ghana. Instead of the daily lesson plan, teachers in such schools have “teaching toolbox” that simplifies their lesson planning. Three, the paper works should be reduced. Technology is changing the workplace, and teachers must feel that change. Systems can be created that allow teachers to enter data once and all the analysis and reporting done for them. Four, there should be different approaches to assessment to reduce the stress of marking too many coursework. Let’s reconsider the case where teachers are expected to meet a high target of work output in a term. Five, reduce the teacher deficit to deal with the situation where some teachers have large class size to teach. Six, give teachers some level of autonomy to use their professional judgement on handling curricular and co-curricular activities. There are more we can do, and MoE/GES must work to see how best teachers’ workload can be reduced.
The fact remains; teachers face a unique pressure that is affecting their well-being and professional efficiency. Not even a rise in pay can be a substitute for the need to reduce this pressure on them. When we do, it can be motivating enough and make the profession appealing and attractive for joining instead of leaving.