Melissa's teaching workload has 'tripled' in lockdown. It's been a wake-up call for her health.

Teachers Health
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Between them, Grade One teacher Melissa Tinkler and her husband, Principal Andrew Augerinos, have 64 years of experience in the Australian education industry. 

They're just emerging from their second Victorian coronavirus lockdown, which saw them forced out of classrooms and behind the chaos of screens, and the headache of remote learning. Yet Melissa will still passionately tell you: "I honestly love my job."

That doesn't mean the last six months haven't been scary though. 

There were more than a few days in remote learning where Melissa found herself working 7am until 10pm. Between trying to keep up with preparation for the next day, meetings, finding fun new costumes or engagement techniques to entertain six-year-olds via Zoom, and parents who couldn't submit their kids' work until after they'd finished work, but still needed feedback before the next day's lessons. The list of 'to-dos' was never ending. 

"The workload doubled, sometimes tripled," Melissa told Mamamia, who is thrilled to be back face-to-face teaching now that Victorian school holidays are over and the lower numbers of COVID-19 cases have allowed them to return.

She didn't sign up for a desk job, and the hours of sitting in front of a computer left her with posture issues and on one occasion, a splitting migraine that saw her bedridden for half the day. 

As she's been putting her all into supporting her students' education from home during the global pandemic, it's been a relief to know that her own health is covered through the not-for-profit health insurance for teachers, education staff and their families, Teachers Health.

"We've been with them over 10 years. You can call anytime and speak to a person, and you know it's a health fund for educators. I feel they understand things we are going through and what we need," she told Mamamia.

When Melissa, 52, was younger she thought she was invincible. But with two kids now in their 20s, one of whom has needed two knee reconstructions and multiple hospital visits, she's realised over the years how great it is to have a health fund that not only gives her kids the best treatment they can get, but understands her profession.

"Knowing that Teachers Health is there takes some of that stress away - and the anxiety," she said. "The first time we went into lockdown there were a lot of unknowns and it was quite scary. They put something out telling us that if we became COVID positive, they would support us throughout whatever treatment we needed.

"That was really reassuring because we didn't know what was going to happen. It was nice to know we were covered and that we'd be able to choose where to go see doctors and things like that."

Some of the services Melissa and fellow teachers can access include telehealth services, such as physio and chiro, and extra support through Teachers Healthcare Services, like mental health support. That's never been more needed than this year.
Melissa and Andrew are both in education, and say it's been amazing to have a partner who truly understands the job. Image: Teachers Health.


In 2020, Melissa has seen more people than ever understanding the mental load that teachers carry.

"It's the first time in my long career that I've seen positive comments on social media like 'We take our hats off to teachers' and 'This is hard work home-schooling two kids, how do they do it with 25?'" said Melissa.

"It's been actually wonderful because previous to that there was the perception that we're in a 9-3 job and all the comments were just about how many holidays we get. I think people now realise how hard a job it is."

One of the ripple effects of the pandemic is that it's forced Melissa and her colleagues to worry about student wellbeing more than ever before. 

"Our job is to educate kids, but with COVID, wellbeing is also of paramount importance. They can't learn if their wellbeing isn't positive. So we're then linking into the wellbeing of the families and it's sort of a domino effect," she said.

Teachers suddenly have so much more access into the homes of their students, and now that Victorian kids are slowly getting back into the classroom after months of stage three and four restrictions, they're facing another hurdle - assessing who blossomed during lockdown, and who has been struggling.

Melissa certainly has her work cut out of her with only a few months left of the year, and amongst it all she still has to think about the reality that she might still be vulnerable to catching the virus. Social distancing might be somewhat achievable with her high school colleagues, but for a Grade One class, it's near impossible.

"We wear masks with staff, but it's difficult to teach young kids with one on. They know to wash their hands when they get to school, and they don't share equipment. But if I am helping a six-year-old read standing 1.5m away is just too hard. We do the best we can," she said.

In the meantime, she knows Teachers Health is focused on her wellbeing and the wellbeing of her colleagues, while they're so busy looking out for their students and their families. She hopes the younger staff at her school take this year as the wake-up call that health is not a guarantee, and it’s important to make it a priority.

In a year of scary unknowns, Melissa is about to wrap up her 30th year in teaching knowing one thing: Never has there been a year where the role of teachers has been more recognised, understood or appreciated.

Melissa loves her job. But now Australian parents are thanking her for doing her job in a way that feels completely new, and that feels like a bit of a silver lining.

Are you a teacher or do you have one in the family? Compare your current health insurance to Teachers Health's online comparison tool for free now.

Feature image: Teachers Health.

Teachers Health
Teachers Health is a not-for-profit health fund exclusively for the education community and their families. We’re intently aware of the affordability pressures confronting Australian families, particularly during COVID-19 and put in place extensive hardship measures to support our customers, including the deferral of the 1 April premium increase for six months and expanded access to telehealth services.