School closings have already been called for the rest of the year in many areas, and it’s a stressful situation for teachers everywhere. But who knows best how to protect yourselves from burnout? You do.
by Elizabeth S. Leaver
As teachers, you know there’s no shortage of the requests (and at times, demands) asked of you—back to school, end of year, and just about all the days in between.
And right now, with the coronavirus pandemic having closed many schools for the rest of the year—talk about demands. You’re having to rejigger your whole lesson plan and make your way through an unprecedented teaching situation for which there’s no map, all while managing your own families.
We’ll all eventually get there, even if it takes a little wine (and a lot of chocolate). In the meantime, all of these competing demands and stress make burnout something to watch for. Try these tips, many from fellow teachers, to help keep yourself together—right now and over the long term.
(Over)communicate to friends, family, and especially colleagues. Don’t be shy about reaching out when you need support or ideas, or a chance to vent. You might already be using Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms for school-related meetings—it works great for happy hour check-ins, too.
Kerry C., an elementary reading specialist, loves videoconferencing with colleagues about “topics [that] are not school-related.”
“It’s such a way to connect, laugh, see our own children bopping in and out!” she says. “It just strengthens our community when we cannot physically be together.” Kerry says she and some colleagues also started a private Facebook group to keep in touch and encourage each other when they’re not on video chats.
“Teacher friends are essential,” agrees Erica P., who teaches kindergarten. “I call them for support or just to vent.”
Protect your space. Yes, your students need you, but it’s like the airplane face mask analogy—you’re only in good shape for them if you get enough oxygen first. Don’t feel compelled to respond to every request immediately; most parents realize you have a lot going on. If it’s not already in your district or school plan, set up virtual office hours. Pick a block of time that you can accommodate, and let parents know this is the best time for you to communicate with them.
Just breathe. Kleenex has partnered with the Calm app to offer three months of free access to the app’s premium service, which includes guided meditations, relaxing music, and nature scenes.
Get up, get out, and move. Exercise is encouraged during quarantine, and lots of teachers say it’s been an essential part of staying centered and together (not to mention working off some of that chocolate).
“Sunshine and physical activity really help me,” says Heidi H., a high school guidance counselor.
“So not used to sitting down so much,” says Jennifer M., who teaches special education. “I need to get up between student meetings and stretch and move. I make sure to get outside to walk.”
If the weather prevents you from going out, inside exercise breaks are good, too. Kristin S., a special education teacher, says YouTube yoga workouts have been “fantastic” for helping relieve stress and helping her focus.
Indulge—it’s OK. There’s a reason it’s called “comfort food.” Favorite takeout meals, sweet treats you try to avoid most of the time, a relaxing bath—finding ways to break up your days and make things a little special here and there is great self-care.
Even pleasures that seem more mundane can do the trick. Jodi K., a special education assistant, turns to music as a form of self-care. “I have a couple of songs that really center me,” she says. “They allow me to just close my eyes and get in touch with my emotions…and [I] am able to adopt the ‘I can do this’ attitude,” she says.
Bad days happen. A little bit on edge? It’s OK—few people are at their best right now. Cut everyone (including yourself) some slack.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. You might see all the flaws and might-have-beens when you compare now with what it’s normally like to teach in your usual setting. Ease up and remind yourself you’re doing the best you can.
Accept what your resources allow you to do. Your home was not set up to be a classroom. Your own kids can’t always be contained or occupied. Try to be OK with that because pretty much everyone is in the same boat.
Reach out to your school parent group. They’re thinking of you, and even from a distance there are tasks they can help you with. Our sister site, PTOtoday.com, recently published an article on ways PTOs are helping their schools and communities during the coronavirus closings.
Dedicate a specific time for things you want to do. For example, block off an hour a few afternoons a week to dig into a hobby or other pursuit that has meaning for you.
“Play is important for adults, too, and I’m trying to work some in,” says Erica P. “I teach K, so play is usually a natural part of my day and one of the things I miss the most.”
Jaime M., who teaches 4th grade, says time spent making protective masks is rejuvenating and good for her overall well-being. “I look forward to time sewing masks. If I have a purpose [that’s] not work-related, I find I am way more pleasant to be around,” she says.
Take screen breaks! We’re on screens now more than ever, and it’s important to give our eyes—and minds—a rest. Make it a point to get up, stretch, attend to a quick chore, take a quick walk—anything that will force you to leave the devices behind for a bit.
“I find putting all technology away and ‘unplugging’ from the outside for a couple hours a day to be helpful in managing the stress during this time when teaching is being done through a screen,” says Bethany D., a preschool special education teacher.
And finally, perspective. There’s no doubt—this is really tough. But like all things, it will pass. In the meantime, Nora M., who teaches high school Spanish, offers an inspiring point of view to her fellow educators.
“One thing that helped me was to realize that this is like starting the school year again in many ways. There will be a lot of work at the beginning to get new systems in place, modify curriculum, collaborate with peers, learn new platforms, connect with students in new ways,” she says. “I told myself that this will get easier once these systems are in place, and it won’t be this stressful the entire time.”