Teachers are struggling.
That’s the top finding in a new survey of employed adults in Washington state by Premera Blue Cross.
- 42% of teachers said their mental health has declined since the COVID-19 emergency began that’s compared to 37.6% of the general Washington workforce.
- 36% of teachers say that their stress level is much higher than it was before COVID-19 compared to 24% of the general population
- 44% of all workers say they’re working harder with teachers, women, and people with children in the home in particular impacted.
This isn’t a surprise to Premera case manager, and registered nurse Jennifer Leisegang who is a former educator and now supports teachers.
“Teachers are being asked to do a job in a way that they have never done it before, so that creates an additional level of stress,” she said.
Through the Classroom Champion program, we heard stories of teachers taking on new responsibilities to help their students. They’re helping solve technology problems and using their own money on equipment for the students to learn from home. Teachers organized parades and made special deliveries for children’s birthdays. One teacher personally dropped off classroom supplies at each child’s house. That’s in addition to teaching, grading papers, and helping students succeed.
“This is a job of love,” said Premera case manager and licensed mental health counselor Christine Swanson. “Love of their kids. Love of their communities. They’re investing in lives.”
On top of that, teachers have the same pressures many Washingtonians are feeling right now: Educating their own kids, finding safe childcare, avoiding disease, caring for extended family, and facing financial burdens.
What Can Teachers Do?
Teachers are so used to being immersed in their students’ lives and haven’t had to work from home before, so they don’t have practice in setting a boundary between work and home.
If you no longer have a physical boundary of going from school to home, try to create one. Set an alarm for quitting time and turn off your computer. Go for a walk or interact with your own family.
Tell students and parents your office hours and stick to them. Don’t respond to emails or take phone calls during your non-working hours. You can gently remind students that you are available to answer questions during office hours.
It can feel impossible to take care of yourself when you feel responsible for so many children and problems. But we don’t know when this uncertainty is going to change, so delaying your own care is not sustainable.
One way to keep yourself going is to practice self-care. Start with the basics: Getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, drinking water, taking vitamins or medications, and going for medical care.
Teachers tend to work hard during the school year and delay self-care or medical appointments until school breaks, Leisegang said. But this year, summer break came at a time when many people were delaying appointments to reduce COVID-19 exposure. At the same time, teachers were quickly learning new ways of teaching, so they didn’t get the same chance to recharge and take care of themselves. Take the time now.
Check In With Your Body
When we’re stressed, our body feels it physically. Quick shallow breaths and tight shoulders are common signs. If you notice it, take a few minutes to let go. Right at your desk while leading a Zoom meeting, you can take a few deep, slow breaths. Then shrug shoulders up and release a couple times.
In the classroom, teachers move around a lot. From the front to individual students’ desks, and down the hall.
Get up and move around as much as you can. Lead your students in some jumping jacks, a silly dance, or some stretches. It’ll be good for all of you. Alternatively, you could stretch or take a quick walk around the house between sessions.
Show Yourself Some Compassion
Recognize what’s in your control vs. what’s not. A lot right now is out of our own control. Focus on what you can do.
“Teachers are in the helping profession and have so much compassion for students and families. It can be really hard for helpers to accept help or ask for help,” Swanson said. “Accept that you have your limitations. You’re just a person. Set reasonable expectations right now and try to be gentle on yourself.”
Collaborating with your peers and talking through challenges with the administration can help you feel less alone. Use the resources in your employee assistance program.
Celebrate the Wins
Remember good things are coming from this difficult period, too. A student who is hesitant to speak up in a classroom might be thriving with more written communication. A peek into students’ homes might help you reach them in a new way.
You can also let your class enjoy the funny times. Make time to enjoy the silly moments and laugh with your students.
“Look for the rainbows when you can find them,” Leisegang said.
Image by Drazen_