The first section in this segment reveals the sources of stress factors during digital labor of school teachers segregated according to the already existing stress factors like lack of equipment and training, work intensification, job insecurity and sexual harassment. The second section contains coping using resources provided by different levels of social systems.
Sources of stress factors according to already existing stress factors of school teachers
Lack of equipment and training
With the newly enforced online teaching, teachers did not have digital technologies like smartphones, laptops or tablets with internet connection. Even if they owned such technologies, they lacked the training to use them for teaching purposes.
Since a language teacher in Mumbai did not know how to use the mute option to silence all students in an online class, she was exasperated and said, ‘Many parents could be heard talking in the background while the class is on. This is very distracting. An entire domestic quarrel could be heard from a child’s home.’
The altering ecosystem of school teaching centering around digital technologies demands school teachers to reskill themselves to these new-age technologies. Lack of support to access digital technologies and meager knowledge of its operability were stressful to teachers.
Teachers, especially women were pushed into tremendous degrees of multitasking at home. On the one hand, they have to take care of their children and their studies, cater to familial needs and do all household chores simultaneously and on the other hand, they have to deal with the requirements of an unfamiliar domain of online teaching from their homes. Besides, teachers who were engaged in COVID-related duties, even when they did not take online classes, had to prepare worksheets for students.
Apart from subjects like Science, Arts and Languages, extracurricular classes like physical training, theatre, yoga, music, art and craft were also taught through online mode. Unlike normal classroom sessions, these lessons had to be tailored for online teaching. New modules had to be prepared for multiple classes and they were in turn quite overwhelming. It took more hours to prepare for each session and teachers could not afford to go unprepared even for a single class. It was time-consuming not only for lesson preparation but also for planning online assignments, viva-voce, activities and novel assessment methodologies.
According to an Economics student in an online class, ‘Even while using the chat box to type questions, it takes a while for the teacher to be able to get to each one which can be a little more time-consuming than when in school’.
During synchronous online teaching, teachers took live sessions and for asynchronous online teaching, videos were pre-recorded and sent via WhatsApp or posted on YouTube. In both these types of teaching, teachers had to create online materials like PowerPoint presentations and videos, compile notes, file daily reports on what was taught, send homework on messaging apps, get doubts of students cleared and mark them on online assignments and examinations. Rather than focusing on the understanding of the subject by the students, teachers tend to be engaged in execution-level activities.
Some teachers take the class in shifts since only one smartphone was available per household and parents usually take it for work. Concurrently, as not all students could afford online education, teachers had to be in constant touch with these non-tech category students and their parents. In States like Himachal Pradesh, hardcopy of notes were provided to students who were not able to join online classes. In all these circumstances, according to most school teachers, only bright students performed well during online education. Below-average students found it difficult to cope with the subject and hence required personalized attention from the teacher. Pressurized with multiple activities exuding from online teaching, teachers are stressed at the end of the day.
Apart from an increase in workload, in certain cases, there prevails a threat to the employment of school teachers. Even before the temporary closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, some private school teachers were not paid salaries on time. In states like Maharashtra where online teaching was banned for classes up to the second standard, teachers in private schools were laid down by the school management. Also, contract-based teachers were denied to continue their work because of financial constraints by the school as parents did not pay school fees for their children.
It was noted that as a single teacher was able to reach a large number of students at any given point of time with the use of digital technology, the role played by teachers was undermined by school administration and they found it useless to pay more teachers and asked them to rejoin only when offline classroom-based education resumed. Temporary job loss led to economic insecurity and unemployment stress and hence change in the lifestyle of school teachers.
A contract-based teacher was working for a school for seven years. As per her disclosure, ‘We have run out of savings. On one hand, I’ve lost my job, while on the other, the school my child studies in, has been forcing us to pay bus fees, tuition fees. We have been forced to make changes in our lifestyle and food habits.’
There were instances when private schools were shut down as parents withdrew their wards from these schools because of their financial constraints and teachers working in these schools had to search for new jobs.
According to a pre-school teacher in Mumbai, ‘We were told that the school is not in a position to sustain itself and is now shutting down. With two grown-up kids and my husband already having borne losses in the catering business, dealing with this news has been devastating.’
Another concern for stress while performing digital labor is the sexual harassment faced by teachers, especially women. During online classes in a Noida and Ghaziabad school, there were instances when schoolboys passed objectionable comments about female teachers using a digital pen and shared it with their classmates. Even when schools have reported the matter to the police, no legal action could be taken, because the boys were underage. Also, in most cases, schools preferred to sort out the matter mutually since it affects the reputation of the school. Such events are highly stressful to teachers, especially during the pandemic.
From the above analysis, digital labor has created novel sources of stress among school teachers. However, this could be coped with the right set of related resources. Over some time, from the commencement of online teaching and continuation into hybrid teaching, it has been analyzed from newspapers that certain stress factors were mitigated by addressing the sources of stress factors.
Coping with the identified stress factors using resources provided at different levels of social systems
Lack of equipment and training
At a micro-level, teachers themselves bought new digital technologies for online teaching. Also, nudged by circumstances, teachers learned to use digital applications by themselves through trial and error. Furthermore, immediate family members came to their rescue. Senior teachers who were not familiar even with the internet and smartphones learned from the younger generation in their homes.
A parent of a student in Mumbai said, ‘Most teachers find it difficult to cope with online teaching. Lack of familiarity with technology forced them to seek help from their children to set up apps and deal with technical glitches.’
Considering resource availability at meso-level, the schools trained teachers to use software for teaching. Various online training programs, webinars and instruction on standard operating procedures were conducted by schools and this helped teachers to equip themselves to face the challenges of online teaching. Teachers were encouraged to use digital technologies available in schools after the lockdown was relaxed to create e-contents for online classes.
A mathematics teacher in New Delhi stated, ‘Initially, we were completely dependent on WhatsApp groups and not everyone was available there. Gradually, we shifted to other modes of online classes, including Zoom and Google classrooms.
At a macro-level, teachers were trained to use digital technologies for teaching both by state and national government. The Maharashtra State Council of Education Training and Research trained teachers to conduct online classes at its Pune studios. The Central Board for Secondary Education partnered with Facebook and provided teacher training on new online teaching software and methods.
Teachers reused their content prepared for online classes during the onset of virtual classrooms in the consecutive academic years. Hence, the time spent on content creation was minimized with the already available resource at the micro-level. As type of expectation from the digital labor was known, teaching became easier as time progressed with online teaching.
Maintaining class decorum was time-consuming during class hours, especially for primary standards as teachers cannot physically control students. At a meso-level, the parents of these students came to the rescue. Parents cooperated in assembling students for a class on time, preventing distractions in their home environment and checking on their assignments.
Similarly, at a macro-level, respective state governments prepared e-content for subjects so that teachers can use them for teaching purposes during virtual teaching.
According to a Mathematics teacher in New Delhi, ‘the State Education Department formed an academic team of teachers to create content for different subjects for all government schools on a daily basis’.
Job stress on the well-being of school teachers performing digital labor
From the above analysis, it was inferred that among the novel sources of job stress in categories of lack of equipment and training, work intensification, job insecurity and sexual harassment, only the former two categories were coped with limited relative resources provided at different levels of social systems. Even when initiatives were taken at the school level to relieve teachers of the stress caused by sexual harassment while performing digital labor through warning and discipling students, they were not apt measures to control this stress on a sustainable basis. As job insecurity was created by schools themselves, expected government-level interventions to abort such practices were not realized. Hence, it could be inferred that job stress has a deteriorating effect on the well-being of school teachers while performing digital labor.
Level of job satisfaction on the well-being of school teachers performing digital labor
Sentence level sentiment analysis is the process of detecting positive or negative sentiment in the language used in sentences (Feldman, 2013). Sentences on views, experiences and quotes by school teachers were coded to perform sentiment analysis. It helps in capturing the emotions of teachers with more granularity. Sentence level sentiment analysis of school teachers from top English language dailies in India using NVivo software for more than a year revealed that negative sentiment overpowered positive.
As stated by a private school teacher, ‘There are pros and cons in virtual classroom. However, as a teacher I feel we have lost the personal touch. At the end of the day, we do not enjoy job satisfaction, which we did earlier.’
Hence, from the above teacher statement and overall sentiment analysis across a period of 17 months, it could be inferred that school teachers experienced low levels of job satisfaction while performing digital labor. This complements the result obtained from the analysis of job stress and coping. Finally, it could be concluded that the novel digital labor accorded a negative effect on the well-being of school teachers.