“Why can’t we get into Schoology today?” “Can you please remind us how to log in to Clever?” “Where should we post this assignment?” These are all questions my wife and I asked our then-second-grade son’s teacher when our Ohio district first transitioned to distance learning in March after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down school buildings.
These are questions from one family alone. Imagine how many questions she received from all of the students and parents from her class of 25 to 30. And this was on top of her making a major shift to remote learning, planning digital lessons and posting assignments, worrying about whether her students had Wi-Fi and both academic and emotional support at home, and parenting and managing distance learning for her own children.
Later, as she closed out the school year with one last video chat with her class—imagine trying to corral 20+ second graders who are all anxious to talk to friends they haven’t interacted with in person for months—you could hear the emotion in her voice. She had to say goodbye to the students to whom she had grown so close during the previous months, and she had to do it through a computer screen without being able to hug each of them one last time.
A Roller Coaster of Emotions
Teachers of all grade levels experienced similar transitions and emotions as 124,000 public and private schools across the U.S. completed the school year through distance learning. Now, both teachers and administrators face an uncertain 2020–21 year of navigating in-person learning, distance learning, or a combination of the two while remaining flexible in the event that districts are forced to return to 100% distance learning.
Many people don’t understand or appreciate the stress and mental health impact these past several months have had on teachers and administrators. “This time has been extremely disheartening,” said one elementary special education teacher from another Ohio district. “When things went remote in the spring, many people lashed out at teachers because we weren’t able to educate their kids in the same way, and parents suddenly had to step up. Somehow that was our fault.”
“Then, for a brief time, people realized how much teachers and schools do, and we were heroes,” she continued. “Now it seems teachers are back to being the ‘bad guy’ as more and more districts go fully remote again. Parents are telling us to suck it up and quit complaining about being back in person because this is our job.”
Increasing Pressure in Uncertain Times
Like many other educators, this teacher is concerned about the safety issues the country is facing during the pandemic. “Teachers are being told they need to provide their own personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies—and figure out how to keep kids six feet apart on top of everything else we do,” she went on to say. “And while I’m not high risk, many teachers I work with are. They didn’t sign up for this. So many teachers I know are ready to retire, quit, or take leaves of absences. I foresee a big teacher shortage in our future because of all this.”
These concerns and emotions she cited are real. A July Time article documents the concerns facing many teachers and administrators as they prepare for the uncertain school year that lies ahead. What is critical, though, is that they take the time to care for their own mental health in order to continue making a positive impact on the lives of students.
“Teachers are attuned to the social-emotional well-being of our students and trained to monitor for signs such as trauma, anxiety, bullying, or microaggressions,” wrote Henry Seton, a longtime high school teacher and department head, in an Educational Leadership essay. He went on to write, “Yet we are still just learning how to discuss a huge, lurking threat to our work: our own mental health.”
That lurking threat has undoubtedly grown larger with COVID-19 and the necessary changes in education that have come with it. An ongoing EdWeek survey reinforces this, documenting the decline in teachers’ spirits. When EdWeek first surveyed teachers about morale on March 25, 63% said morale was lower than before the pandemic. This figure rose to 69% by April 8 and 71% by May 7.
During these difficult times, it’s key for teachers and administrators to take the time to address their own self-care and mental health so that they can continue to be the best teachers they can possibly be. As this April Harvard Business Review article reminds us, “Take good care of yourself. Because we need you.”
Here are some resources for administrators and teachers:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides some helpful resources for anyone, including information about how pandemics can impact stress, how to take care of your mental health, and healthy ways to cope with stress.
- Specifically for educators, the Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC) Network is conducting a 12-part Self-Compassion Webcast Series for Professionals in Education. The next session is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, August 11.
- The Educator's Room has an entire podcast series focused on self-care for educators.
- We wrote about mental health awareness for teachers during distance learning in a May blog post.
As a parent, I have always valued educators, but I was able to experience firsthand during the conclusion of the 2019–20 school year just how difficult it is to teach students—all of whom learn and are motivated in different ways, as we have seen with the two students living under our own roof. We need to support these amazing educators who are developing our young people in any way that we can, and that includes encouraging them to prioritize their own self-care and mental health.