You know who needs a break? TEACHERS!
The long awaited summer break is quickly approaching in the United States but for our colleagues in Uganda, a truncated school year has only just begun. Due to the pandemic, resulting in almost an entire year away from school, teachers in Uganda are under immense pressure to get their students back on track and onto the next grade level. But with Uganda now entering its second COVID-19 wave, with limited access to vaccines, it is once again unclear when teachers will be able to return to their classrooms. It is no wonder with these stressors – combined with environmental stressors that weighed on Ugandan teachers even before the pandemic – that Ugandan teachers might be in need of social-emotional support.
Evidence shows that early childhood teachers’ psychological well-being influences the nurturing and learning classroom climate in early care and education, as well as children’s development. It also shows that teaching-related stress negatively predicts the quality of emotional support and classroom organization they are able to provide. It is for these reasons that ParentCorps is working with partners in Uganda to promote the social-emotional well-being of teachers alongside that of students in order to foster safe, nurturing and predictable environments for children in schools.
Just like in the U.S., teachers in Uganda often come from the same communities as their students – a fact that enables rich understanding of each other’s experience through shared community and cultural ties, but also means that teachers experience many of the same environment stressors (i.e. poverty, gender inequity, political unrest) as their students. This stress inevitably is carried into the classroom.
Since 2011, ParentCorps has partnered with colleagues at Makerere University to offer professional development and coaching to teachers and school leaders across Uganda. Now in 2020, we’ve turned our efforts towards promoting the social-emotional health of teachers to help them combat stressors that, we know, are deeply linked to teachers’ readiness and responsiveness to students’ social-emotional needs.
In partnership with USAID and the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health in Uganda, ParentCorps works alongside local mental health professionals out of Makerere University – professionals whose understanding of teachers’ cultural context enables them to provide a dedicated space for teachers to reflect on their own self-care practices and learn strategies for coping with stress. Professional development focuses on self-reflection, awareness building, and relationship skills to foster a community of care among teachers.
While focusing on Ugandan teachers’ social-emotional health alone will not solve long standing systemic inequities or change the current circumstances responsible for exacerbating an already stressful situation, it can bolster teachers’ capacity to support their students’ social-emotional development and build the positive, caring relationships that we know are foundational for learning. Our teachers are everything, and their well-being must be prioritized. Our kids’ social-emotional health depends on it.
Special thanks to Yen Huang for her leadership and to Tara Bowser, Cindy Gray & Meghan Hurley for their tireless efforts in supporting our work in Uganda.
Michelle Boyd is a ParentCorps Specialist.