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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Who Takes Care of the Teachers? Institutions Make the Biggest Difference

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Editor’s note: The following is the second part of an essay that was originally posted on Maha Bali’s blog.

In the first part of this essay—“Teachers Are Carers—But Who Takes Care of the Teachers?”—I discussed two types of care that teachers need and can get: care from fellow teachers, and care from their own students. Here, I explore a third area: equitable caring policies at institutions.

This is the most difficult type of care but the most important one. As bell books wrote: “Teachers who care, who serve their students, are usually at odds with the environments wherein we teach” (bell hooks, Teaching Community, p. 91)

The first two types of care (teachers and students caring for teachers) are like Band-Aid solutions for temporary situations. But of course no matter what happens, we may need them, because situations where we need emergency care always exist, and it helps to have a sustained and sustainable community to fall back on. It’s good to have a caring community of educators you can lean on, internal or external to your work environment, and to be able to occasionally be vulnerable with students. As Mays Imad reminds us, “nurture is our nature.”

But the real issue is institutional demands on our time that can burn us out, no matter what we do in terms of self-care and community care. These systemic issues will reproduce a cycle of exploitation unless we resist and interrupt them.

So if you are in a position of power in your institution, make sure you are giving people proper time off and not asking them to work on weekends or when they are sick (my boss is really good at that). When I had Covid, I worked about one or two hours a day, and only because I wanted to, it was my choice. I also knew I had people to talk to and there was a culture of care within my department, people offering to take over for me in workshops, etc., because my boss instituted this culture. And whenever any of us was sick, the others took over smoothly and naturally, with gentle nudges from her, and recognition of the importance of these actions for the overall health and well-being of the department.

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