Teachers in Crisis Contexts: We must invest in their strengths, not rest on them

Teacher Wellbeing
Teacher Professional Development
Teacher Compensation

"Just like the children I teach, I have experienced the loss of my home and know what it is like to flee a war I did not have any part in. Perhaps that is the reason why I wanted to come work here and make a difference for these children." - Francis Ocaya, Teacher, Uganda

Teachers are at the heart of a child’s learning, well-being, and holistic development. On World Teachers’ Day this year, we recognize that “teachers are also at the heart of education recovery” as schooling systems across the globe continue to grapple with the ongoing Covid-19 health pandemic. Though the scale and scope of the pandemic is unprecedented -- disrupting teaching and learning for 1.6 billion students and more than 100 million teachers and school personnel -- countless educators have been teaching amidst conflict, crisis, and displacement for decades (Sherif, Brooks, & Mendenhall, 2020). 

Teachers such as Francis, who grew up and attended school in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in northern Uganda during civil strife and violence wrought by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) know this all too well. Francis now teaches South Sudanese children and youth in a refugee settlement in the same community where he himself was once displaced. This shared experience with his learners, which Jackie Kirk and Rebecca Winthrop coined as an ‘alternative qualification’ of educators working in crisis contexts - motivates Francis to work with refugee children and youth, and uniquely positions him to understand and respond to the adversities his learners face.

Despite Francis’ skills and strengths as a teacher, we cannot expect him or his colleagues to undertake this work alone. Yet, too often teachers feel overlooked and under-supported. Teachers working in crisis contexts -- who may be national teachers working with refugee learners, IDP teachers, or refugee teachers -- face extraordinarily challenging and complex classrooms and rarely receive the support they need to meaningfully carry out their work. 

A volunteer teacher in Colombia. 2016 (c) Edgar León / NRC

It is well documented that amidst crisis, teacher professional development is sporadic, uncoordinated, and of varied quality (Burns & Lawrie, 2015), teacher management policies frequently restrict compensation, benefits, and long-term engagement in the profession (Mendenhall, Gomez, & Varni, 2018), and teacher well-being is overlooked despite the stressful nature of teachers’ work (Falk et al., 2019, 2021; INEE, 2021). Further, the constellation of actors working closely with teachers -- most notably their supervisors and school leaders -- receive insufficient professional development to create a positive school climate that would enable teachers to effectively carry out their work (Mendenhall et al., 2021). This must change now. 

In an effort to make this change, the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies’ (INEE) Teachers in Crisis Contexts (TiCC) Collaborative brought together a group of humanitarian and development actors to develop an initial Call to Action that aims to transform sector-wide support to teachers in crisis contexts. Consisting of five action-points centered around teacher management, teacher professional development, teacher well-being, and school leadership and governance, this Call to Action urges the international community to:

  1. Prioritize teachers from the very onset of an emergency, through to recovery and development, with increased financial investments, better data, and effective planning so that adequate numbers of teachers, including female and minority teachers, are teaching where and when they are needed most.
  2. Respect teachers, including volunteers and facilitators, as individuals and professionals with appropriate and equitable recruitment policies, pay and employment terms, and working conditions.
  3. Enable teachers to support all learners by continuously investing in and dramatically improving the nature and quality of teacher preparation, continuous professional development, and sustained support.
  4. Support teachers’ well-being, recognizing the impact of crises on teachers in their own lives and in their ability to do their work, and providing comprehensive support to teachers at the individual, school, community, and national levels.
  5. Listen to teachers’ expertise, experiences, and opinions, by including them in decision-making bodies and coordination mechanisms, program design and implementation, and research efforts.

Over the coming months, the TiCC Collaborative, in partnership with the LEGO Foundation, Education International, Oxfam, UNESCO, and the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030, invites you to participate in a series of events that will feed into, improve, and mobilize this emerging Call to Action. The TiCC Event Series 2021-2022 will provide an opportunity for us all to collectively and effectively improve and commit to the Call to Action. It will also help us understand how to better mobilize this global agenda for improving support to teachers throughout their careers.

Through various virtual meetings between 2021-2022, the TiCC Event Series warmly welcomes you to:

  • Listen & Learn: from and with teachers, practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and donors as they share promising approaches and persistent challenges across policy, practice, and research. Contribute to this discussion and build an evidence base on how to best support teachers by submitting a case study on teacher management, teacher professional development, teacher well-being, and school governance and leadership, by Friday, October 15th.
  • Collaborate & Commit: with diverse stakeholders across the development and humanitarian sectors to review, revise, and improve the emerging Call to Action. Help us draft recommendations for stakeholders on how to best mobilize and enact this global agenda in a way that transforms  how we support teachers. 
  • Engage & Empower: teachers to share their perspectives and experiences by writing and submitting their Teacher Stories, which we will be sharing throughout the Event Series. These efforts will garner more attention to the critical role teachers play and situate teachers as experts in describing their roles and responsibilities and the support they need to effectively carry out their work throughout their careers.

While today -- on World Teachers’ Day -- the international community celebrates the incredible work of teachers, we must also reflect on the challenges they face and recognize our collective responsibility to provide teachers with the support they deserve. In doing so, we must acknowledge the skills and knowledge that teachers, like Francis, bring to classrooms across the world’s crisis-affected communities. 

At the same time, we cannot let our celebration of teachers’ work cause complacency. We must recognize teachers as leaders in their communities’ response to disaster, recovery from war, and preparedness for climate change, while at the same time prioritizing the conditions that inhibit the full potential of their work. 

During this year’s United Nations General Assembly, world leaders pledged USD$138.1 million to Education Cannot Wait, the fund for education in emergencies. The same week, the LEGO Foundation pledged US$150 million to UNICEF’s efforts to get children back to school. As we work towards a post-pandemic world, education is taking center stage. 

With this opportunity we must invest in teachers’ strengths, not rest on them. We must address structural and systemic barriers, not bypass them or settle for the status quo.

Please join us in the TiCC Event Series as we continue this work with and for teachers to transform sector-wide support for educators in crisis contexts. For more information on how to get involved with the TiCC Event Series, please contact: eventseries@inee.org.