COVID-19 has changed the way we live and educate—both in recent months and likely well into the future. As of May 15, 48 U.S. states had recommended K-12 school building closures for the rest of the academic year. This means that 50.8 million public school students, along with another 5.8 million private school students, have completed or are completing their school year through distance learning.
But what about the teachers who have been forced to pivot to continue educating K-12 students remotely? With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s a great time to consider the mental health of our teachers in addition to students, especially during these times of increased distance learning.
Teachers are stressed now more than ever. “Stress isn’t new to teachers, but what they’re experiencing now makes their typical stress seem like a picnic. Driven by a pandemic to the front lines of an unprecedented rush to distance-learning, the nation’s teachers are scrambling to manage an armful of new challenges. And they’re exhausted,” reads a recent Education Week article.
Some of these new challenges and concerns teachers are grappling with might include:
- Are my students homeless, hungry, or experiencing abuse at home?
- What about the mental health of my students?
- What’s happening with the students we’re not hearing from?
- How can we communicate and provide instruction to those who aren’t connected?
- What about the families that we’re just not hearing from?
- How are we going to prevent “COVID slide?”
- What will next school year bring? Will we be teaching in a physical classroom, continuing distance learning, or balancing some type of blended learning hybrid?
“I am a nurse,” said third grade teacher Jaime Gordon in an April NPR piece about teaching during the pandemic. “I am a counselor. I’m a cheerleader. I’m building their growth mindset. I am an anxiety-decreaser. I mean, the list goes on. I’m not just teaching them math, science, social studies and all the content. So that is also part of my job that I was hoping I’d be able to do virtually.”
An April op-ed in The Dallas Morning News outlined four ways that district leaders, colleagues, and parents can help teachers both now and after the pandemic passes. This includes being conscious of preventing teacher burnout, anticipating teacher anxiety resulting from concerns about their students’ safety, and taking teachers’ suggestions for remote learning planning at the district level. In addition, it's vital that district leaders evaluate teachers’ mental health as they return to school, offering the necessary support to allow them to continue successfully educating students.
In addition, a March WeAreTeachers article reminds us that “we cannot effectively take care of other people if we are not taking care of ourselves” and offers these six tips to help teachers manage stress and anxiety:
- Be kind to yourself
- Keep your hands busy
- Move your body
- Calm your mind
- Stay connected in the right ways
If you are an administrator or teacher experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, please contact your healthcare provider or your employee assistance program (EAP). If you’re contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).