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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


STRAUSS, E  and  DANIELS, D. "It's a time bomb... the ship will sink": Emotional well-being of High School educators in the Helderberg area of the Western Cape. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.3, pp.391-403. ISSN 2224-7912.

International research on education shows that educators are continuously undergoing extreme pressure in their work environments. The experience of this pressure combined with external demands (stressors), such as parental expectations and socio-economic challenges, pose a direct threat to their holistic wellness as well as that of the school as organisation. Continuous exposure to extensive demands can eventually lead to emotional illnesses such as burnout and depression. Emotional wellbeing encompasses mental health, emotional intelligence, development of relationships as well as the social development of people, and is an important dimension of an individual's wellness. Concern about educators' wellness, and more specifically their emotional wellbeing, stems from the fact that teachers are the providers and facilitators of wellness to school children. Thus, when educators' wellness is at risk it also threatens the wellness of the learners and the school as an organisation. A variety of national and international studies have shed light on the causes of stress and emotional illness amongst educators. Pertinent stressors identified for South African education include curriculum changes, the implementation of new education policies, multicultural and multilingual classes, overcrowded classes and poor collaboration between educators and management. Few studies have reported on educators' understanding and experience of these stressors. This article outlines six educators' personal constructions of their emotional wellbeing. The context for the study is the Helderberg area of the Western Cape, and the participants were drawn from four of the eight high schools in the area, two of which historically were former model C-schools and two were model D-schools. The research process was directed by the qualitative, interpretative paradigm, and data were generated through individual semi-structured interviews, reflective diaries and observations. Thefindings confirm that the teachers are emotionally vulnerable and that their emotional wellbeing is at risk. Though clinical diagnoses did not fall within the scope of the study, specific emotions described by the participants can nevertheless be tied to emotional illnesses such as major depression and burnout. The participants exhibited certain behavioural patterns such as a decrease in productivity and work ethics, reactionary or violent behaviour, blaming of others, and paranoid-type behaviour which are associated with overwhelmingly negative emotions. The participants are of the opinion that educators' levels of emotional wellbeing may be directly related to their specific work contexts. The two dimensions of wellness influenced by the participants' low levels of emotional wellbeing are the physical and social dimensions. They attributed the neglect of their physical wellbeing to the limited time that educators have to live healthy lives and to plan and follow healthy diets. Their lack of physical exercise and unbalanced diets were contributing to chronic illnesses such as diarrhoea, that some of them periodically suffer from. These educators furthermore reported the negative impact that their low emotional state has on their family life. From the data it would seem that the frustration that educators are experiencing in the work place finds its way into the private family space. Even those who did not offload their frustations at home, reported that their relationships with their spouses, families and friends had become strained. The participants all attributed their low levels of social wellbeing and relationship problems with family and friends to their unhappiness in the work place. The findings underline the importance of healthy work conditions that could promote educators' emotional wellbeing and benefit educational outcomes.

Keywords : wellness; well-being; teaching; education; burnout; South Africa; relationships; tension; stress; social problems; poverty.

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