Wellness 101: A Teacher’s Guide To Surviving COVID-19 “I am constantly communicating and definitely out of school hours—serving as the parents’ therapist, kids’ teacher, and full support system,” says the 25-year-old elementary teacher working remotely for a middle school.
“Work takes up about 95% of my life,” adds a 45-year-old elementary school teacher who is teaching both in-school and remotely while also juggling the responsibilities of being a wife and a mother. “The other 5% is making dinner, doing laundry, and staying in touch with friends and family.”
“My husband is a daily reminder that I am neglecting my family due to long work hours,” says another teacher. “Also, I had to take my own child to daycare—knowing that the pandemic is still out there and real—just to be able to work at home without noise.
I think it is unfair because my child is not immune to the disease, yet the district expects teachers to be online and virtual, putting our own family at risk daily to complete their online priorities all day long. It has taken a mental toll on me. I stress over my child daily, and these work hours have made me tired. At times I just want to quit my job. I’m so stressed out daily.”
Most of the teachers who responded to our survey say they are either married or living with a significant other. But even single teachers are having a difficult time managing their jobs and their personal lives.
“During the week, I don’t really have a personal life because there is a lot to do once I am home,” says a 25-year-old single middle school teacher. “I try to keep Saturday as a day of rest, but Sunday afternoons and evenings are dedicated to preparing for the upcoming week.”
Improving Their Work/Life Balance
Suddenly changing from a traditional in-person school to one that is entirely or partly virtual can be more time consuming because you’re learning an entirely new way of teaching. Add in family responsibilities, and it can be exhausting. Here are some tips on how to make time for both work and yourself.
Separate “work” and “play” spaces. Assigning a space within your home dedicated entirely to work can help you stay focused when working remotely. And, it’s a space you can walk out of at the end of your workday to help you literally walk away from the stress of your job.
Believe in the value of what you’re doing. It’s more difficult to reap the benefits of your work when your students are virtual. But teachers change students’ lives every day even if you don’t realize it. In fact, you may never know the full impact of your good work. You just have to have faith in what you are doing.
The same thing goes with family. You may never hear your child thank you for the meal you whipped up in your limited spare time or the dinner you ordered to be delivered.
But your child will remember how you cared for them even during the most challenging times, and so will your students. Don’t lose sight of the important role you play in their lives each and every day.
Learn to say no. You can try, but you can’t do everything. Say you’ve always been a stickler for assigning homework every night of the week, but now you’re too overwhelmed to check it regularly.
Or, you have always made time at night to cook for the family, but now you feel too rushed. Perhaps it’s time to scale back on one or the other. It doesn’t make you a bad teacher or a bad parent. It makes you human. So learn to say no to things that make you feel like you have bitten off more than you can chew and remember for every “no” you say, you give back time to yourself.
Job Satisfaction & COVID-19
There are times teaching can feel like a thankless job. Teaching during the coronavirus pandemic is no different and, in some cases, maybe worse. Many teachers have that their concerns about returning to in-person school aren’t being heard. This has taken a toll on teachers’ overall job satisfaction.
Our survey found that 68% of teachers feel less satisfied with their jobs than they did before the pandemic. At least a third of them report feeling “significantly less satisfied.”
“I’m always drained. I feel like I’m failing like a teacher. I just feel blah all the time,” says one teacher. “I’ve thought about changing my career more than I ever have.”
“I feel more stressed and anxious about everything—the state of the world, exposure to the virus, and my work. I feel added stress teaching under a microscope, parents who are not understanding, administrators that are not supportive or understanding, students that are falling between the cracks. It all weighs too heavy on my heart and mind.”
But there are some silver linings to the COVID-19 cloud. “I’m talking to parents all hours of the day and on weekends,” says a 28-year-old elementary school teacher working remotely for a Title I school that serves mostly low-income families. “I actually feel more connected to my parents this year than ever before.”
The pandemic has also been a wake-up call to parents, giving them a much better perspective of the challenges teachers face teaching the younger generation. “I’m glad more and more people are recognizing what teachers do in terms of instruction and learning,” wrote Gretchen Weber, Vice President of Policy, Practice, and Systems Change for the American Institutes for Research, one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science research and evaluation organizations. “If ever there was a year to make Teacher Appreciation Week the biggest celebration ever, this is the year.”
Finally, we asked teachers to tell us what is weighing most on their minds during this stressful time. Many express concern and compassion for their students.
“My students balance more responsibilities than any fifth graders I know. Because [my students] are at home, grownups are asking them to be babysitters, caregivers, parents, money makers, and students all at once,” one teacher says.
“When they come off mute to share, I can hear how distracting the workspace they are in is. Many of my students have babies bouncing on their laps during class or have to make food for siblings.”
Another teacher says, “I am definitely more worried about my students now. I go above and beyond for them in the virtual setting. I know this is part of the reason I work so much and I am stressed. But I feel obligated to make sure they are OK more often now because their mental health is important, too. I definitely have the mindset that their mental health is more important than my own.”
And, they feel frustrated with the lack of support on many levels.
“The political climate is a huge factor with the constant miscommunication, misdirection, lack of national leadership. These have had a huge impact on the school and therefore on my teaching,” one teacher says.
“The lack of a unified approach that is science-based and the fact that funding that was promised and not delivered has made providing for the students a major issue. I find myself spending much more of my personal funds to provide basic supplies and needs for myself and my students at the school.”
But beyond it all, there is a guiding light that gives them strength. As one teacher says, “We’re all in this together.”
COVID-19 has rewritten the syllabus of our lives. It has changed up our routines and upended our expectations. Whether educating students behind a mask, in person at a social distance or virtually from a computer screen, teachers have stepped up to the challenge. We know some of you have done so tepidly, concerned for your health and the health of your family. We see you, and we applaud you for stepping into the unknown.
If there is a positive spin in all of this, it’s that COVID-19 has changed perspectives. Parents now see and appreciate the extraordinary efforts educators make to reach our children and the passion that drives them every day. Even students have come to appreciate the educational and social importance of school.
We hope that teachers see that we care, take time to care for themselves, and reach out to other teachers going through the same challenges. As one teacher in our survey says—and we couldn’t agree more: “We’re all in this together.”
Printout: Teacher Survey Data
Teacher Survey Infographi
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Dr. Sabrina Romanoff
Dr. Sabrina Romanoff specializes in issues related to relationships, work/academic stress, and life transitions. She finalized her clinical psychology doctoral training at Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance and completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Northwell Health/Lenox Hill Hospital. Continue Reading →