The strangest school year in the global history of education is underway. Stress levels among teachers and students are high and rising. In the face of a global pandemic, virtually every working teacher on earth is struggling. As an educator, you’ve already learned that, as Canadian Teacher Magazine says, “… your job is BIG this year. EXTRA BIG.” This month, we check in with some articles that list the psychological and emotional challenges in the COVID-era classroom, the toll it is taking on teachers and students, as well as some sites that offer suggestions on how to deal with students’ and your own stress as together you navigate these uncharted waters. Whatever your situation, it is clear you are not alone in your concerns.
- Teachers worried about health, quality of education as they deal with COVID-19 – How challenging is it out there? Very, according Ontario Health and Safety magazine. Maan Alhmidi reports on one example, grades 10 and 12 teacher, Kelly Main, who “says she has never felt as exhausted and stressed during her 27 years of teaching high school as she has since returning to the classroom this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Teaching in a hybrid system, every day she is expected to deliver the same material to two cohorts. And as she looks ahead, there is little to raise her spirits. “I consider myself to be in a pretty good position right out and I am still stressed,” she said. She said she is worried that things could get worse. “I don’t know really how the others are coping,” she said. “I think we might be headed for some real burnouts.”
- Alberta Teachers’ Association survey shows ‘unsustainable’ fatigue, stress and anxiety – Before we move on to suggestions for coping, one more snapshot of teachers’ current mental health. The Alberta Teachers’ Association reports on a mid-September survey of “the attitudes of 1,600 teachers towards public health guidelines in schools, a vast majority reported ‘extreme and unsustainable levels’ of fatigue, stress and anxiety, at 94 per cent, 95 per cent and 81 per cent respectively.” So, if you’re feeling the same way, you are in good company.
- How Teachers Can Buffer Student Stress From COVID-19: Ordinary Magic – Some guidance is on hand. Writing in the October issue of Education Week, psychologist, Lisa Damour, Ph.D., suggests some “ordinary magic” in the form of three strategies: 1) Find ways to Connect, by taking class time to check in on students’ feelings. “Helping students understand that they are seen and cared for will put them at ease and open the door to learning.” 2) Give students a sense of purpose, by linking their learning to long-term goals, and 3) Offer predictability and control. “An academic day with predictable patterns puts students at ease because they know what to expect.”
- Remote school has kids isolated and stressed. Here’s how to help. – All students are not equal in their susceptibility to stress while working online from home. Sarah Y. Vinson, an Atlanta psychiatrist who works with children from different income families, says, “some families have been able to sort of re-equilibrate and find a new normal, and for those kids, some of them are doing better than they were in April or May,” whereas others, who lack Internet access for example, are doing much worse. In all cases, Anna North suggests you focus on emotional learning. Writing for Vox she quotes Justina Schlund, a specialist in academic, social, and emotional learning: “When it comes to the content of classes, many say that social and emotional learning — “learning who I am, my emotions, my identity, my values, and how that fits into the larger world…is more important than ever.”
- How COVID-19 Has Influenced Teachers’ Well-Being – Writing in Psychology Today, Amy Vatne Bintliff reports on the fragile state of teachers’ work-life balance. Teachers are stressed on many levels, reporting challenges “regarding student basic needs, and other trying situations such as parent job loss, evictions, a lack of food in child households, increased student anxiety, and increased parental stress.” Community support for teachers is needed now more than ever. The author says, “As a parent or a community member, we must offer teachers grace, flexibility, patience, understanding, and support all while advocating for greater resources to support teacher well-being and greater action to reduce underlying inequities experienced by their students.”
- There’s No Shame in Staying Safe: Ten Ways Teachers Can Encourage New Covid Practices Without Shaming Students – Some positivity at last. Canadian Teacher gets practical, focusing on practical responses to the crisis, including: “Take the lead,” “Get outside,” “Don’t single anyone out,” “Make it a game,” “Focus on what they can do, instead of what they can’t,” “Adjust your expectations,” “Look after you,” and “When things get tough, validate and inspire:” “Tell kids that what is being asked of them can be really hard and uncomfortable. Then tell them how impressed you’ve been with how well they have done so far (even if they haven’t—focus on what has gone well). Tell them that you have seen them do hard things before. Then put your confidence in them and trust that they will get back on track.”
- Teacher creates DIY desk barriers for a COVID-safe classroom – Finally, are you stressed about the limited physical barriers to infection in your classroom? If you have the tools and skills, consider emulating New Milford teacher Dr. David Mirto. From the CEA website, “Taking matters into his own hands—literally—Mirto has constructed clear safety barriers for every desk in his classroom. ‘I have a small woodshop at my house with some basic tools, and I sketched out a design for a desk shield,’ he says. Using a saw, staple gun, duct tape, and screwdriver, he made 30 shields out of cellophane and wood frames that attach to students’ desks as well as his own.” We are guessing that Dr. Mirto took out a considerable amount of stress with that saw and staple gun.
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