How do you mentally cope with teaching during a pandemic? No one can say from experience; however, we can learn from some time-tested methods for handling the stress and uncertainty of teaching.
Teachers are acutely aware of the levels of stress the classroom can bring: making meaningful connections, covering course material, meeting learning standards, managing a room full of different personalities, and keeping an eye out for the well-being of students – just to name a few. Add a pandemic to an otherwise normal academic year, and teacher stress levels have the potential to skyrocket leading to feelings of overwhelm, decision fatigue, and burnout.
Whether schools return to in-classroom instruction, hybrid, or a remote learning set up, here are seven tips that can help educators handle the stress of teaching during a pandemic.
7 Tips for Teaching During a Pandemic
1. Know you’re already a pro in dealing with uncertainty.
Uncertainty is a natural part of teaching. Everything from how a class manages complex learning objectives to how a funding request will be answered can be up in the air at the beginning of the school day.
“For teachers, uncertainty is a pervasive fact of working life. They face uncertainty about what their students are learning, about the effects they have on students, about the subjects they teach, and about their own authority in the classroom.” – Robert Floden and Christopher Clark, Preparing Teachers for Uncertainty
Like the best poker players, teachers use what they know to hedge their bets. Yes, the pandemic ups the level of uncertainty to unprecedented levels, but you’re already a pro and can use your expert knowledge to move forward with confidence.
2. Find healthy ways to manage the stress.
Teaching is an inherently stressful job because it revolves around caring for the needs of others. Whether following up to make sure a student is tracking with material or supporting them through an emotional high or low, teachers take on stress sometimes without even realizing it.
“When we experience stress on behalf of others, we may dismiss it as inconsequential or ‘irrational’ and ignore it. Givers may spend years attending to the needs of others, while dismissing their own stress generated in response to witnessing those needs. The result is uncountable incomplete stress response cycles accumulating in our bodies. This accumulation leads to “compassion fatigue” and it’s a primary cause of burnout among givers, including those who work in helping professions….If we want to change the world, we need change agents to know how to receive care.” – Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, Burnout
“If we want to change the world, we need change agents to know how to receive care.”
– Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski in Burnout
The good news, teachers, is that even though you may not be able to control the circumstances that are stressing you out, you are able to release the stress so it’s not stored in your body. Or, as the author of Burnout put it: complete the stress cycle.
And, completing the stress cycle is easier than you may think. Activities like running or swimming, affection, laughter, creative expression, and deep breathing routines, will all do the trick.
3. Connect with your fellow teachers.
Shooting the breeze with your colleagues isn’t just good for your social circles. It reinforces the meaningful work teachers do in their classrooms because they know they’re not doing it alone.
“Simply having teachers remind each other of the endemic uncertainties of their work may reduce inappropriate feelings of individual failure.” – Robert Floden and Christopher Clark, Preparing Teachers for Uncertainty
While the teacher’s lounge may be off-limits right now, try scheduling a virtual conference room where your peers can stop in and talk about their classroom, share a tip or trick they learned, or vent about how hard teaching in 2020 can be.
“Simply having teachers remind each other of the endemic uncertainties of their work may reduce inappropriate feelings of individual failure.”
– Robert Floden and Christopher Clark
4. Ramp up your data tracking.
Using accurate measuring and assessment tools can fortify your efforts in the classroom and prove students are “getting it” despite the uncertainty of the school year.
GradeCam’s data tracking tools help you keep up with how your students are engaging with new material and retaining comprehensive learning objectives. You can even use GradeCam data tools for qualitative data like how students feel about their progress or what their moods are during class.
5. Use flexible assessment options.
Find a tool that allows you to provide assessments no matter where your students are.
GradeCam has options for in-classroom and online learning. The same assessment can be used both ways. Simply create your assessment form and either print it out and distribute it in class, or make it available in the Student Portal. If students complete the form away from the classroom, they can share a photo of their completed assignment with the teacher for digital file import scanning.
6. Don’t plan too far ahead.
Planning is a key component to being prepared in the classroom, but if plans go awry, teachers and students are left managing their disappointment and sometimes scrambling to implement Plan B.
“Shorten your planning window. The future is uncertain right now.” – Elizabeth Morphis, Learning to Teach During Uncertain Times
Try planning in shorter bursts to maximize the probability of everything going according to plan. Or determine a contingency plan in the event that the original plan cannot happen.
“Shorten your planning window. The future is uncertain right now.”
– Elizabeth Morphis
7. Empower your students to be problem solvers.
Ronald A. Beghetto advocates inviting uncertainty into the classroom by allowing students to tackle complex problems. Allow them to be part of finding the solution when lesson plans are abruptly thwarted.
“We will never realize these benefits unless we’re willing to take the beautiful risk of allowing students to unleash their problem solving on complex challenges—inside and outside the classroom.” – Ronald A. Beghetto, Inviting Uncertainty Into The Classroom
While disruption and uncertainty bring about unwanted stress, they can be great opportunities for students to engage with and problem solve. This real-world uncertainty presents a chance for students to demonstrate their resilience, exercise their adaptability, and flex their creativity to meet and exceed expectations.
You can do it!
While teaching during a pandemic is not what anyone predicted for the next school year, there are ways to bravely move forward and manage the stress.
We wish the best for all teachers as they embark on this unprecedented adventure, and we’ll be there for support every step of the way!