Thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for sticking with it. Thank you for showing up and being a calming presence for students of all ages in a time like no other. Thank you.
Today, we are facing a global pandemic, a fight for social justice, and an era where keyboard warriors are using their electronic platform to let everyone know they’re right and you’re not. They’re letting everyone know they’re an expert in Biology, Politics, Education, and more. Because you’re a teacher, a lifelong learner, you are consumed with the need to know. You are consumed with the need to be aware of everything because you’re a teacher and it’s your job right?
Please be careful, and be mindful of the rabbit holes you go down. Eventually, if it hasn’t already, it will escalate your concerns and affect your mental health. There is a lot for you to process without the outside noise. The negative naysayers do not represent your entire school community. One day you’ll have a person riding their bike in the morning come up to you as you get out of your car and say “Thank you for your service, and doing what you do. We appreciate you, stay safe.” This happened to me, and that message is to all of you. Your community cares about you more than you may realize.
Back to School Anxiety
August is always filled with high levels of back to school anxiety. This August is no different, and now there are added sources of anxiety. Here are some common comments from the educational community:
I still don’t know our plan for reopening. I can’t sleep. Contact your Principal. Prepare your questions ahead of time. If your Principal is open to meeting at your school to discuss, request that instead of an email conversation. Knowing you have a 10 am appointment on Tuesday will do better for your state of mind than waiting for an email response that could potentially never come, or not be the level of information you need to know.
I will be going back to my building to teach virtually, but no one is telling me about cleaning supplies. Even in normal circumstances, this is a touchy subject for some people. As a classroom teacher, I always kept a small stash of cleaners that I purchased because I always had a way my room needed to be. Some people don’t want to or feel they shouldn’t have to spend money on cleaning supplies for their classroom. There is truth to that, too. Talk to your Principal. Ask for what will specifically be provided, and ask what will be done at the end of each day. Be open to bringing in something yourself. It will bring you a general peace of mind knowing you have the ability to wipe down your desk, or a chair a colleague sat in.
Virtual Learning makes teaching a 24-7 job. How am I going to survive an unknown amount of time doing this? Not knowing how long Phase 1, Step 1, Stage 1 will be is enough to create severe anxiety. If this is you, your feelings are real, and that is okay. Try to focus on what you can control. When beginning Phase 1, establish clear parameters and expectations of your Virtual Teaching. Be very clear. And stick to them. At the end of the day, turn off your device. At the end of the day, ignore your work email “ding” on your phone. On Fridays, delete the work email app from your device, or turn off the notifications if you are strong enough not to “check”. One of the things I tell my teachers as an Instructional Coach is to establish a clear separation of work and home. If you are working from home, set up a room/office space that is only used for teaching, and nothing else. When your day is done, stay out of that room. An actual physical separation will help train your mind to work during your work hours and take care of you and your family during your off-hours.
Mental Health toolkit
Lastly, teachers, I would like to share a little bit about having a mental health toolkit. In order for you to function, and make it through Friday of the first week and onward, you should have a plan for you that will help you bring balance back into your day should you experience high anxiety. Here is what I do:
Go for a Run or Walk.
Commit to run or walking at least 1 mile a day. When your days are tough, increase that to 2, 3, or more depending on your abilities. Physical activity creates endorphins that combat stress.
Visual Journaling allows space for creative expression without direction. Let it flow. No one is critiquing your work. It is for you, by you. Art Therapy is a common practice for reducing stress and anxiety.
Do you want a milkshake from Sheetz? Some watermelon from the Farmer’s Market? The new t-shirt in the Still I Run store? Get it. You have to treat yourself. Teachers are some of the most selfless people out there, and often times forget to treat themselves for their own hard work, and things they’ve done for other people.
Write down something positive that has happened at your job, recently or in the past.
Start keeping them in a jar. Every now and then, come back to the jar and remind yourself of why you are an amazing person, and the difference you are making in the lives of your students.
Consider a Pet
Major corporations and even Congress occasionally brings in puppies or kittens from local rescues for a de-stressing station. I swore I’d never get a cat. And now my wife and I have Weasley, and he is my guy, my boy. He knows when something is up, and snuggles. He looks for me when I leave the room, and he trots over to me when I get home. He’s an amazing kitty!
Teachers, again…THANK YOU. I wish you all a great school year. Be Patient. Give yourself Grace. And try your very best to be flexible and recognize everything YOU are doing for YOUR school community.
Brian 16 Year Educator, Instructional Coach