A health-focused Lynn Valley couple has written the book on keeping teachers healthy. With more than 20 years practicing occupational therapy focusing on the education sector Wade Repta put much of his expertise down on paper in The Well Teacher with the help of his wife Andrée.
Keeping teachers well
“Expectations on teachers are extremely high,” said Wade. “They work under extreme scrutiny and typically they are hare high performing individuals who put others ahead of themselves. The job can be overwhelming – it’s far more challenging than people think.”
Covering a range of topics The Well Teacher was written to give teachers practical tools to keep them in the classroom longer and to get them back sooner after injury or illness.
“If someone is struggling with mental or physical health it can be a tough to manage while caring for 22 children,” said Wade. “I have probably worked with over 1000 teachers either one on one or in workshops. We see so many challenges and there was nowhere for them to go to get the information they need. We wanted to give them the information to improve their well being. We hear over and over again ‘Why didn’t I know this?’ Or ‘Why was I never taught this?’”
Another big difference between other sectors and education are the return to work accommodations, explained Andrée. After an injury or significant work absence most employees are able to figure out with their employers reduced hours, part-time schedules, different responsibilities and a variety of other accommodations.
“For teachers depending on their schedule, their blocks, their specialties it can be difficult to find support for that which makes it very different from other sectors,” she said.
Most of the book is specific to the teaching profession which Wade says is to address the unique challenges teachers are facing.
“In the work we do – [the teachers we see] are already struggling,” said Wade. “Our job is to help people to manage their illness or disability and then figure out their work. This book is to help those teachers and to give information to teachers who don’t want to get to that point.”
Specific help for teachers
Topics range from mental health to ergonomics to voice as well as an entire chapter on returning to work after an injury or illness. They cover the day to day life of educators which can slowly erode health. The physical challenges are usually not brute force injuries but stem, typically, from poor routine.
“In younger grade levels everything is low, so there are repetitive injuries from bending, kneeling,” said Andrée. “Or in high school a teacher maybe working by a white board all day long and not doing in the best way.”
Often small changes to classrooms and routines can help those teachers. The Well Teacher also addresses the physical challenges of chronic conditions and disease. But that’s not the case for other teachers.
“Of those we see – people who are asking for help or had a crash – pretty universally, about 50 per cent are off for physical health and about 50 per cent are off for mental health reasons,” said Wade. “We are seeing a lot of anxiety, we are seeing a lot of depression and while it is not a diagnostic term, we are seeing burn out. They are just tired.”
People don’t realize it’s common for teachers to feel that way because they get multiple breaks throughout the year but when they are at work it is overwhelming, he said.
“So many are just barely getting by.”
The Well Teacher website also has a number of resources available that help readers implement the strategies in the book.
“We wanted it to be functional and actually used and put into practice,” said Wade. “We know sitting down and setting goals leads to more success. We want teachers to have more control over their wellness – to prevent a further decline or give them a starting point to get back in the classroom.”