Samantha Ross, LCPC
As many of you know, I used to be a teacher. I remember the joys and struggles of teaching under normal circumstances, and I can only imagine what it is like to be in education during this global pandemic. Dedicating so much of your time and energy to helping students is hard. More than anything you want it to be fulfilling and rewarding, but COVID-19, well...
The increased anxiety surrounding the return to school may make students, teachers, and parents more stressed. Working with students in perfect conditions can be challenging. Teaching, counseling, and supporting students during constant change can cause stress on both the mind and body. Stress can translate to many physiological issues and make one exhausted and unmotivated. Before creating, or grading, or modifying another assignment, take a moment to ask: Are you taking care of you?
Self-care is NOT self-ish!
Any worry or fear you may have about the return to in-person learning is your brain trying to protect you (https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/fight-flight-freeze#takeaway)
In order to fight the anxiety you need to find ways to lower risks and increase protection. Here are some ideas to help you stress less.
Take care of yourself
Put on your oxygen mask first! You have to take care of you before you can take care of anyone else.
If you need to create a safe, sanitized space that’s just for you, try building a shower curtain wall or staying behind your desk. Do whatever you can to lower your anxiety.
Give yourself a break. You are only human after all. Classroom fatigue is as real as Zoom fatigue.
Have lunch in your car if you need. Getting out of the classroom and breathing in some fresh air can be a welcome change to the day.
If you are allowed to move the furniture around, reorganize the space to make it work better for you (while still maintaining social distance requirements).
Do what you’ve always done, but with a twist
Check in with students to see what they are anxious about and how you can help.
Talk about how you can work together to lower risks outside of the classroom.
Create shared classroom rules – guidelines for communication, additional precautionary measures, anything that helps everyone feel safe during class.
Be the teacher you have always been. The environment is different, but you are still amazing!
Make connections with students by letting them know how/when you will be available to help. Let them know they can email you if they ever want to talk.
Reach out to those you know who are struggling. You might be able to chat about things that are bothering both of you.
Continue to let the students know you care about them. Being motivated is hard right now. Everyone needs someone in their corner!
Ask for help from everyone
Send an email to parents or post on social media (you may need permission from administration to do this) requesting wipes, hand sanitizer, etc. You deserve to have whatever you need to feel safe.
Reach out to parents for help engaging with their students. Teaching is sometimes a joint effort.
Set up a GoFundMe if you need other supplies to make the environment more comfortable. It is okay to need some additional help.
Find ways to use the technology to create connections – especially between the students at home and those in the classroom. Things like discussion boards can be really useful to keep students engaged.
Increase opportunities for the students to be creative with technology. They know stuff! In-class presentations can become video presentations that are done ahead of time. Students can use shared documents to do collaborative group work.
Rework activities you would usually do in-person to be done online, that way all of the students feel included. If you normally have students edit their papers by hand, do it via Google Docs (there is less risk of germs being spread this way too). If you would normally do an in-class lab activity, find an online alternative.
Find ways to get able-bodied students who are in the classroom moving. Start class with a (socially distanced) walking meditation. Instead of having students raise their hands, have them stand up when they want to speak.
Bring other mindfulness activities into the classroom. Things like starting the day with private freewriting or taking a five minute break to do a breathing exercise half-way through class can be helpful by putting the students (and you) in the right mindset for learning.
Focus on what you CAN control
I know there are a lot of things outside of your control and it is always good to double-check what you can and cannot do. However, it is also important to remember that there are still things you can control. You can decide what
makes you feel comfortable in the classroom. You can ask for help if you need it. You can take breaks, take bubble baths, meditate, do yoga, eat chocolate, drink wine! You can do what you can to destress, be mindful, and feel safe.
These are just a few suggestions to get you started on how to feel safer and less stressed as you return to the classroom – maybe get together (socially distanced) with some colleagues and brainstorm more!
And, if you find you need more help, you can always reach out to me!
Samantha Ross, LCPC
Thanks, Ms. Debra Wilcox for the image - you will make your students feel so safe!