Worlds of Education


Valuing the humanity of teachers and the teaching profession

published 26 September 2023 updated 28 September 2023
written by:

Education involves the development of humanity. This requires valuing the humanity of teachers as people and professionals, and the importance of their complex work to teach learners and equip them to thrive in their lives. Below, we discuss our background paper submitted to the United Nation's High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession on the development of humanity as an imperative.

Definitions of humanity include “understanding and kindness towards other people,” and “the qualities and characteristics of people.” Humanity includes teacher wellbeing, which encompasses physical, mental, and emotional health, and is interrelated with the status of the teaching profession and the nature of teachers’ work, and working conditions ( OECD, 2021; Viac & Fraser, 2020).

Worryingly, evidence indicates deteriorating teacher wellbeing globally, with widespread concerns about stressful working conditions, workload, and work intensification ( Schleicher, 2018; Thompson, 2021) and a decline in teachers’ feeling of being valued and respected ( Singh, 2021). The impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic, including school closures and shift to online teaching, further challenged teachers’ work and wellbeing ( Education International, 2020).

Within this global concern, there are also variations. Who teachers are and where they work can affect their wellbeing. Teachers from marginalized groups such as women, the LGBTI+ community, people with disabilities, and those living in underprivileged contexts are often most impacted by structures of inequity and discrimination that impact wellbeing ( Day, 2008; Kraft & Papay, 2014; Singh, 2021).

Neglecting the humanity and wellbeing of teachers has negative consequences for teachers, learners, schools, and education systems ( UNESCO, 2020). For teachers, exhaustion, stress, and burnout can result in reduced motivation, changes in performance, illness, and leaving the profession. Crucially, teacher wellbeing also affects students’ learning, wellbeing, and achievement ( OECD, 2021). The consequences are too pervasive to ignore. Urgent attention is needed.

In our paper, we propose five imperatives for advancing the humanity of teachers and the teaching profession.

Imperative 1: Improving the status, respect for, working conditions and work life balance for the teaching profession is vital.

Put succinctly: “The most successful education systems are those in countries where society values the teaching profession” (Schleicher, 2018, p. 91). Championing and improving the prestige of the teaching profession is important for encouraging people to enter teaching, as well as recruiting and retaining effective teachers. This involves ensuring appropriate pay and working conditions, work-life balance, and safety.

What we propose:

  • A global campaign championing the importance of teachers and teaching and educating policymakers and key stakeholders about the facts concerning teachers’ work and wellbeing and students’ learning, wellbeing and equity would be timely and important.
  • An appropriate work-life balance requires urgent attention, including addressing inequities for different groups of teachers.
  • The right to be emotionally and physically safe in school must be upheld globally.

Imperative 2: Developing human-centred educational improvement requires teacher agency and leadership.

Human-centred educational improvement places teachers’ agency and leadership at the centre of educational decision-making ( Campbell & Harris, 2023). Thompson (2021) called for a new “intelligent professionalism”, which requires a shift from professional agency and autonomy being conceived as the downloading of government mandates and linked work intensification for educators to an approach that “privileges the expertise in the profession itself” (Thompson, 2021, p. 5). The International Labour Organization has also called for ensuring a decent future of work.

What we propose:

  • The future of the teaching profession is dependent on approaches that embed human-centred educational improvement, intelligent professionalism, and decent future of work as a global priority.

Imperative 3: Prioritising the joy of teaching and love of learning by supporting teachers’ enthusiasm and commitment.

As the United Nations called for in the Report on the 2022 Transforming Education Summit, “transformative teaching and learning based on experience, enquiry, curiosity and joy” (2023, p. 14) are vital. The motivation to enter the teaching profession often includes an enthusiasm for working with learners and making a difference. This commitment needs to be harnessed and supported throughout a teacher’s career. The need to mitigate current policies and practices that undermine the joy of teaching and a love of learning is also vital.

What we propose:

  • The development of a global vision and linked actions to prioritise and centre the joy of teaching and love of learning as a defining purpose and outcome of education would be an important shift for current educational reform. This would require asking,” how will these policies support the joy of teaching, love of learning and teachers’ and students’ wellbeing?”
  • A one-size fits all or prescriptive approach to prioritising the joy of teaching is totally inappropriate. What is needed is connecting with what motivates individual teachers.
  • Approaches to initial teacher education and to continuing professional learning which include attention to teachers’ motivations are important.

Imperative 4: Supporting teachers’ work and wellbeing through continuing professional learning and collaboration.

The Report on the 2022 Transforming Education Summit states that: “Teachers must be supported and empowered to transform themselves and become agents of change, knowledge producers, facilitators, and guides for understanding complex realities” (2023, p. 14). Effective professional learning is linked to teachers’ identified priorities and differentiated for their needs, provides relevant quality content, supports inquiry, reflection, and collaborative learning, requires adequate resources, and support from leaders ( Campbell et al., 2022).

What we propose:

  • Access for all teachers to high quality effective professional development opportunities is essential.
  • Following the COVID-19 pandemic, re-invigorating the confidence of the profession is necessary.
  • Ensuring teacher voice, agency and choice in their professional learning is vital.
  • Opportunities for teachers to collaborate meaningfully, authentically, purposefully and with impact matter.

Imperative 5: Attending to teacher wellbeing and preventing teacher illbeing are urgent.

Teaching is one of the most stressful occupations, and teacher stress and burnout are highly prevalent globally ( De Clercq et al., 2022; Schleicher, 2018; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2020). Workload, work pressures, and limited time to switch off and recharge are major contributors to exhaustion. While education systems are increasingly aware of wellbeing concerns, too often the supports that are available rely on the individual teacher seeking out advice rather than systemic approaches to preventing illbeing.

What we propose:

  • Teachers’ working conditions require investment and attention.
  • A clear commitment to reasonable working hours and workload that can be managed within those working hours requires leadership globally.
  • Attention and support for both individual wellbeing and removal of systemic reasons for professional illbeing must be simultaneously advanced.
  • There is a need to bring together education, health and wellbeing experts, policymakers, and researchers to engage in a sustained high-profile campaign to end teacher illbeing with evidence of effective approaches required.

The urgency of action

Valuing the humanity of teachers is vital for supporting learners, the education profession, and high-quality education. The far-reaching negative consequences of neglecting the humanity and wellbeing of teachers are already being felt globally. We urge consideration and action on the five imperatives we have outlined. Valuing the humanity of teachers must be central to education, this is about the very essence of our collective future.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.