Supporting our teachers during the coronavirus crisis
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic our lives as we knew it has ceased to exist.
Gone is the privilege of classroom attendance, group activities, social gatherings or even being able to take a swim in our beautiful Caribbean waters. Our workplaces have changed with staggered hours, social distancing, and frenzied sanitising.
Family life has changed exponentially. The demands of supporting children with online learning challenging. This coupled with the possibility of reduced income, never-ending bills, and just managing everyday stresses can be overwhelming for us.
But today, I would like to acknowledge our teachers. I refer to those dedicated, hardworking souls who have made it their life’s mission to educate, support, and love our children. I speak about those who not only teach a curriculum but also give the added reinforcement when necessary even if it is on their own time. Those leaders who connect with their students in the celebration of accomplishments or when building resilience and even wiping the tears away during the tough times.
For many teachers, this has been an exhausting journey fraught with frustration, guilt, and self-doubt. They have been forced out of their comfort zones of pencil and paper, interaction and kinesthetic teaching and pushed into a new, frightening world of unknown technology.
They are worried about their students’ lack of resources, not only with devices but having family members who are not able to support. Many are grappling with teaching and planning on unfamiliar platforms but are not being allowed the luxury of the learning curve or adequate instruction.
I have spoken to teachers who grieve for their children’s faces, miss the classroom banter but who are also struggling to find new ways to connect with the disconnect of a screen. One teacher told me she misses the staff room, where stories are shared over a cup of coffee and there is always a willing ear to listen to venting. That sense of comraderie, of support and of belonging has been taken away to be replaced by family members who try to empathise but who will never really get it.
I have spoken to teachers who have told me they have lost sleep seeing their once thriving schoolchildren struggling with class work or when they have sensed darkness emanating from their once light-hearted students. They feel helpless as to how to help them, especially when their parents and families are also in crisis.
Virtual teaching from home is taking a toll on many teachers. Photo: slphotography via iStock
Some teachers have questioned their worthiness, whether they are worthy of being teachers if they “can’t teach”. They ask themselves whether that, on top of all the misery that coronavirus has brought with it, has it caused them to become obsolete, redundant, or dated. Burn out is something I often hear because of long hours coupled with acute, neverending anxiety. In their effort to be everything to everyone, they lose themselves. They put everyone and everything before them leaving little for self care.
Many teachers live in a constant state of hypervigilance, where they are so anxious that they struggle with the basic necessities such as sleeping and eating. They answer every email immediately, which then takes time away from other tasks such as academic planning and even family life.
They are up at all hours perfecting assignments for their students because they feel the need to prove their competence. As such, they may also be unknowingly triggering anxious parents and students who receive assignments past the “normal school hours”. Consequently, when they are met with resistance to their efforts it feels like they have been ‘sucker-punched’ leaving them despondent, discouraged, and apathetic.
So, teachers, what can you do? How can you gain control of something that feels so out of control? Here are some suggestions sent with love:
1: Accept that you have work hours and establish those boundaries. You do not have to answer every email right away or send homework assignments at all hours of the night. Boundaries help keep you safe and sane. They also help set a routine which would allow you to manage not only your work obligations but also tend to yourself and your family. When chatting to teachers who seem to be coping efficiently, they have given parents specific timeframes for responses to emails as well alternate emergency contacts. Others have purchased separate phones for school and created new email addresses so that they can shut-off when they need to.
2: Set up your priorities for work. Schedule in lesson-planning, times for correspondence, grading papers as well as staff meetings. Make time for your continued education and allow yourself to see your successes. Remember, there is no better motivation than seeing one’s hard effort paying off. For those parents who are having a difficult time, set up a specific time for check-ins. This will help regulate contact so that you can minimise sporadic, spontaneous conversations which are often unproductive or without direction.
Photo credit: ymgerman via iStock
3: Set up your priorities for home. You don’t have to do laundry every day or cook every meal. Some days takeout may be in order if it means family bonding time or even moments of quiet reflection. Check in with yourself. Ask yourselves what is your mood like today or your anxiety level. Was it different the day before? Why is that? Be gentle and kind to yourself. If you find that you are being highly self-critical, challenge that thought by identifying three things you have done well.
4: When working at your desk, schedule movement breaks to help with fatigue, to break the monotony of a screen or even just to help with the aches and pains of being sedentary. Make sure to exercise, drink water and to eat on time. For every act of self-care, even if it is remembering to drink water, set the intention for honouring yourself and for giving gratitude for your wonderful gifts.
5: Remember to stay in touch with your colleagues. They know what it is like. They are with you. Where possible, engage in peer counseling which would let you vent but also receive gentle guidance. Let this be a time of self-reflection. A time to notice achievement but also to plan for working on an area in need of strengthening. Maybe do a zoom lunch, to have a laugh and talk about your week.
6: I leave you with one other suggestion. My daughter once gave me a jar full of little love notes. On these notes were affirmations of her love for me and acknowledgments of my successes through her eyes (such as giving the best hugs or making a yummy lasagna). So that when I felt down or even when I just felt like it, I could pull a note and be reminded of the good that I’ve done or even reminded that someone out there loves me for me. I offer this to you. Make a jar for yourself and fill it with wonderful affirmations, with memories that will make you smile both at home and at school, so on the days when you feel blue, you always have these to pep you up. Thank you for all you have done, we are grateful for you.
Isolde Ali Ghent, M.Sc. is a Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of IAG and Associates Ltd. 46 Brunton Road, Apt. Front, St. James, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org