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In the best of times, being a teacher is an emotionally and mentally taxing job. There are always students who are going through difficulties inside and outside of the classroom, and taking on the burdens of each student in the classroom can often feel like part of the job.
Teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies all of the normal struggles for students and will take a toll on teachers. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed, getting burned out, or going into survival mode this school year, you need to develop a plan to protect your own mental health.
Care for Your Students by Caring for Yourself
The uncertainty about how the upcoming school year will play out it is sure to take a toll on teachers everywhere.
This past spring, every element of education during COVID-19 was new. As a teacher, you were facing new challenges around every corner as you tried to navigate how to suddenly instruct students 100% online, help students cope with the upheaval the virus caused in their lives, and deal with the impact of COVID-19 in your own life. Making it to the end of the 2020 spring semester was, in itself, an accomplishment to celebrate.
As the fall semester approaches you have some experience with teaching during a pandemic under your belt but little certainty about how the school year will play out. In order to care properly for your students, you need to start by caring for yourself. Options for self-care include starting a new exercise program, picking up or renewing a hobby you enjoy, and talking to a mental health professional to help you navigate this ever-changing season.
Create Healthy Boundaries with Your Students
It can be challenging to create boundaries with students who are in need or going through some type of upheaval. As a teacher it is in your very nature to want to help students navigate the most difficult times in their lives. Because of COVID-19, every student is facing big and unknown difficulties this school year. And, the presence of a pandemic does not eliminate the other difficulties that students regularly face. If you do not create healthy boundaries and attempt to carry the burdens of all your students, it will become too much. You and your family are living through this uncertain time as well and there have to be boundaries with your students so you can maintain balance in your own life.
A simple way to create healthy boundaries is to have a day or two each week when you do not respond to student emails or do school related work. A break each week can help revitalize you and give you the energy to engage with students for the week to come.
Build in More Flexibility to Your Schedule
Unmet expectations can cause a significant amount of stress and pain in your life. One of the reasons that the spring semester of 2020 was so difficult for teachers and students is the fact that it turned out so differently than expected. You have more information now about what to expect but there are no guarantees about how the upcoming school year will play out. Build additional flexibility into your schedule so the inevitable but unknown changes do not throw everything off track.
Develop a List of Resources to Provide to Students in Need
You will likely find that many of your students are facing similar difficulties. They may lack access to resources and basic necessities. Students will likely be dealing with heightened feelings of fear and anxiety. Some students will also be faced with taking on more adult roles in their families in order to get by. Develop a list of resources in your area that can help meet the needs students are commonly facing. Having this list ready is a quick and practical way you can help your students.
Set and Explain the Expectations in the Classroom (In-person or Online) Frequently
Students need repetition to fully understand and internalize the expectations in the classroom, whether it is in person or online. In previous school years the repetition of expectations was built upon from years of previous experience in the classroom. For example, eighth graders have learned since kindergarten that it is against the rules to chew gum in class. They still need a reminder from time to time but the expectation is understood. This school year is full of rules and expectations that are new for everyone – administration, students, teachers, and parents. In order to help students grasp and follow the new standards it will require you to stay constantly on top of the new rules like wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.
School districts around the country are doing what they can to support teachers in these uncertain times, but it will not be enough. You must take a proactive role in caring for your mental health in order to maintain balance this school year. One way you can care for your mental health this school year is to meet regularly with a mental health professional. Talking to a professional can help you process the difficulties you face each day and develop helpful strategies for coping. SonderMind has a network of mental health professionals available who can meet with you online and help you navigate the challenges of the upcoming school year.