You know why you wanted to be a teacher. Connecting with your students, encouraging them, watching them think and grow has always been your passion. So, why are you feeling, “BLAH.”? This is not only March, aka “the hardest month of the school year,” but it also marks one year of COVID. This is the second time we’re experiencing the “longest month” in what has been the longest year. It’s weighty. There’s a word that is hovering in the periphery of your mind but you know if you acknowledge it, you’ll have to admit you’re experiencing this: BURNOUT. Fortunately for you, the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one.
First, let’s examine the symptoms of teacher burnout.
If you’ve been feeling especially cynical or pessimistic it’s potentially due to the long, arduous hours in front of a screen. You might even feel a certain impotence or listlessness, as if what you’re doing doesn’t matter. The BIGGEST symptom is utter exhaustion, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
When Sir Ian McKellen was filming “The Hobbit” series, reprising his role as Gandalf, he was required to interact almost exclusively with green screens and props. Not being able to play off of his fellow co-stars body languages and inflection proved to be overwhelming! He recalled being near tears because he was so frustrated, stating, “This is not why I became an actor”. Humans are “pack” animals. We need to interact with our herds! If you’ve been feeling increasingly isolated, the rest of this blog will explore what to do with both your students and with yourself to improve your morale!
Next, spend a little time on yourself. A little time now will help you get through the peaks and valleys more easily.
When it comes to you, give yourself grace. We all like to think of ourselves as superhuman, yet we wouldn’t expect as much out of anyone else! You can show yourself a little decency by getting enough rest. Lack of sleep could make you feel snappy and snarly, which will reduce goodwill between you and your students. They’re little people too, who are also feeling the pressure. How we respond to them will show them how to interact with stress as they develop.
Carve out space for yourself, both professionally and personally. Your home office should be completely separate from your sleep and recreation areas. Even if you have to break out the masking tape to designate a corner as your “workspace”, do it! Then make your “office” fun! Whether you like Scandinavian minimalism or Bohemian cacti decor! As long as it’s designed with your aesthetic in mind it will be easier to return each day. When it’s time to clock out for the day, do exactly that. Walk away from your desk and enjoy your time away from work.
Your leisure time is your own. If a suggestion may be made, avoid too much further screen time. Take care of yourself physically with healthy meals and appropriate levels of exercise. Stress can be managed through adequate diet and activity. However, if you really want to binge watch Mad Men instead, enjoy your free time!
Most importantly, identify your support structure and learn to lean on the people in that circle. Call a friend to vent, have your spouse make you a cup of tea, discuss thoughts with your supervisors. It takes a village! You’re going through an historical event as one of the most essential workers. Let people help.
Get back to why you became a teacher by reconnecting with your students.
Try a guided meditation. It may sound a little “New-Wave” for some, however guided meditation can help a student flex their mindfulness. For diverse learners, this may give them some self-regulation skills that help them get through “the longest month”. All students will hone in on their emotions and focus on articulating their needs.
Play a game! There are a lot of virtual games you can play with your students that will help them relax and stay engaged. If you are fully remote, tasks that require physically leaving the work station gives everyone a break from the screen. For instance, host a “Zoom Scavenger Hunt” where everyone has to find 3-4 common household items. If you’re learning about the letter “p,” ask them to find three items that begin with “p” sounds. If you are in a hybrid or in-person setting, some students can stand up and make a “p” with their bodies or draw a picture of something that starts with “p”. This could also lead to a “Show & Tell” where the students get to talk about the items they found and/or the picture they drew.
Using your body is great for students who need hands-on learning and gets the blood flowing for those who have extra energy to burn. You can learn more about what makes your students excited and use that to help plan other activities in the future. And fostering social connections between the students is extremely important to reduce feelings of isolation and depression.
Schedule breaks for them with an activity. It can be something as simple as letting everyone know to get up, walk around or do something physical and silly before returning to their seats. Taking breaks can also free the mind to come up with new and different ideas – great for students who are creative and entrepreneurial. Also, kids need the opportunity to just be kids every once in a while.
This one is going to sound simple, but it can be difficult if you’re feeling strained. SMILE. Smile often, laugh often. You are the one that sets the atmosphere in your “classroom”. If you keep the energy bright and happy, your students will be able to better enjoy their lessons. If they find it enjoyable, they are more likely to retain the information being taught.
One of the most effective ways to engage your students in this virtual world is to schedule one-on-one time with each student every week. It’s up to you how you decide to do this, whether through phone call, email, etc. Whichever method you choose, make it a time to talk to your students about how they are. Not about their performance in school or about how they’re progressing with the lessons. Consider this call to be a wellness check for the kids. You might find that you need that time just as much as they will!
You decided to become a teacher to connect with people before they’re fully fledged; to shape and mold young minds. Don’t let your calling fall by the wayside due to this unprecedented pandemic. Remember why you chose education! By employing mindfulness regarding both your and your students’ well-being, you’ll be able to go the distance. Let’s see this pandemic problem through to the finish line with your mental health intact!