“Virtual teaching is hard. Hybrid teaching is hard. Teaching a room full of students wearing masks is hard. Teaching in a normal, non-pandemic year is hard. This is all hard.”
–Josie Bensco, 6th grade science teacher
I have seen so many teachers who are teaching online post on social media that they feel like they are failing as teachers. Teachers who are teaching face 2 face are not feeling much better. Even though they are with their students, they still need to follow COVID protocols and many fear for their health and for the health of their family members. And then there is the basically impossible hybrid model. Seriously, how is that even a thing?
Every day, highly skilled and devoted educators put forth their best effort, working long hours just to get the basics done and they still can’t meet the needs of their students. So many educators are feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, and exhausted.
Sadly, I can’t change the reality of your teaching situation (though the products in our TpT store can certainly help and so can these Minds in Bloom blog posts), but I can help you to negotiate them with a bit more grace and possibly a more realistic perspective than the one you are currently clinging to like Rose on a floating door in the Arctic Ocean (and yes, there was room for Jack!)
Read on to realign your thoughts and feelings about what is being asked of you during this (warning: astronomically overused word ahead) unprecedented time.
Change your Mindset
Teaching during a pandemic is hard.
I know you know this, but do you really?
When my daughter Lucy was 3 years old, she refused to do anything asked of her. She threw epic temper tantrums. She got kicked out of my health club’s childcare for biting another child (a fact that was announced over the PA system during my Zumba class). And once, she bolted into the crowd on a ferry boat just as we were docking, forcing me to leave my 5-year-old alone while I ran to retrieve her. When I caught her, she promptly received the first and only spanking I have ever given her.
I was not, as you can imagine, feeling great about my mothering skills. Then one day, one of my mom friends said, “You know Lucy is a challenging child, right?” The fact is, I did not know. I thought she was just the normal level of toddler challenging. But my friend (who has a degree in early childhood development) assured me that, no, Lucy was indeed more difficult than the typical toddler and I was, in fact, doing a great job of being her mom.
This realization led to a huge feeling of relief. My imaginary mantel of “Bad Mother” was lifted off my shoulders, as if by angels. I stopped blaming myself and instead, started giving myself credit for mothering a challenging child (who, btw, grew into an intelligent, insightful, and compassionate adult who thankfully, has no memory of that spanking).
If after reading this story, you are doubting my maternal instincts, the fact that I have just compared my daughter to a global pandemic should cinch it. In this story, Lucy is this COVID school year. This year is not normal. It is in fact, incredibly challenging and in no way should be equated to past school years. It is nearly March and if you are still teaching you have done extraordinarily well. Please, understand this in the core of your being.
If you are blaming yourself. If you are feeling like a failure. If you think you should be able to do it better, please let those garbage thoughts go and replace them with better and more accurate thoughts. Thoughts like:
- I have done the best I could with the resources I had.
- I am a devoted and skilled educator working under extremely challenging circumstances.
- It may not have gone as well as I’d have liked, but I sure did learn a lot.
- Despite the fact that I did not sign up for this and was not trained for it, I have adapted and am doing my job well.
- What I have done during this pandemic is nothing short of miraculous! I am an incredible educator making a significant and positive impact on my students’ lives.
Give Yourself a Double Helping of Grace
I imagine you have some regrets about this school year. Mistakes have been made. There have been some errors in judgment and not a small number of failed lessons. Not to mention all of the awesome activities you wish you could have done, but could not make happen this year.
Odds are, no one else is thinking about these things. Mistakes have been forgotten by your students and probably by parents too. No one but you even knows about what is being missed.
Let it go. Allow yourself to make mistakes and forgive yourself. We tell our students that making mistakes is how we learn. This applies to adults too…and this is a year overflowing with things to learn.
Giving yourself a healthy dose of grace will make you a better teacher and a happier human.
Celebrate Small Wins
This is not a Stand and Deliver school year. Mona Lisa isn’t Smiling. Writers are not being Freed and Opuses are not being played by devoted students. The Day will likely not be Seized (and certainly no one is standing on furniture to encourage such seizing).*
The wins this year are smaller. Learning to use a new technology. Finding an online activity that engages all your students. Successfully adapting a lesson for social distancing. Seeing progress in a hard-to-reach student – even if it is small. Finally finding a mask that doesn’t fog up your glasses.
Don’t discount these small wins. Don’t take them for granted. They are evidence that you are doing your job well. Celebrate every win.
Celebrating every win is not only good for you, it’s good for your students. Model this behavior so that they will learn to celebrate their own small wins.
*If you have no idea what any of this means then either I have dated myself or you are living under a rock. Either way, google it and then spend some time with Netflix.
In addition to feeling like they are failing their students, teachers are feeling tired and overwhelmed. As you well know, teaching in a normal school year is often overwhelming. Add in COVID protocols, teaching remotely, or both and there simply is not enough time in the day. This is draining on a day-to-day level, but it can also have long term ramifications.
According to Rebecca Zucker at the Harvard Business Review,
“The cognitive impact of feeling perpetually overwhelmed can range from mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating or thinking logically, to a racing mind or an impaired ability to problem solve. When we have too many demands on our thinking over an extended period of time, cognitive fatigue can also happen, making us more prone to distractions and our thinking less agile.”
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to manage overwhelm. In fact, I wrote a whole post about it: Stop Work Overwhelm in 6 Easy Steps. Click on over for the 6 steps and some bonus tips for making your workload more manageable.
Find those Silver Linings
I am not suggesting that you do this in every situation. Some situations are just bad; they cannot be Pollyanna-ed, nor should they be. If you lost someone to Covid, I am in no way suggesting that you look for a silver lining.
However, there are a lot of bad situations in which you can find that little piece of good, if you look for it. Once you find it, just acknowledging it can make you feel a little better. If you can go a step further and feel gratitude (a tall order, for sure), you get double enlightenment points.
Not only does finding the silver lining make you feel a little better, it also helps you to feel more in control of the situation. Maybe you can’t actually change anything externally, but you can change your attitude and that can make a huge difference. Not sure where those silver linings are hiding? Here are some to consider:
- You have probably learned to use new technologies. This knowledge has not only helped you through this school year, but will likely come in handy for years to come. Not only that, learning new things is good for your brain, so yay you!
- If you are teaching from home, you are saving time and money by not commuting.
- You are probably saving money in other ways too…for example: pants.
- You have gotten a previously unseen view of your students’ lives via Zoom camera. This may result in greater understanding and empathy for some of your students.
- No tempting baked goods in the staff room. Or annoying co-workers (I know, you love most of your co-workers and miss them terribly, but we are doing silver linings here, so just think about the ones you don’t like).
- I bet your feet have never felt so well-rested.
- An abundance of opportunities to be innovative and creative in new ways.
- Small kindnesses. Perhaps you have had a parent who has reached out to help in some way. Maybe you got a sincere thank you note. Maybe your principal or PTA has found an awesome way to show appreciation for the work that you do. Perhaps a neighbor brought you cookies. I am hearing so many heartwarming stories of people connecting with kindness – more so now than before the pandemic.
- You get to use your own bathroom. #moreimportantthanitsounds.
- More time with your own family. #butihaveteenagers.
- You have probably gained a new appreciation for real-life meetings. Think how sweet those first few days back with your students will be. Of course, it will likely wear off pretty quick…but there is that first week or so of bliss to look forward to before you get tired of constantly hearing your name and dream of personal space.
Know that This Too Shall Pass
The vaccines are here (and at some point, teachers will actually get access to them). Cases are going down. We are, hopefully, on the back end of this pandemic. Someday in the not-so-distant future, we will leave our masks in the drawer, hug our friends, return to our classrooms, and go back to our pre-pandemic activities.
If the pandemic has you feeling depressed, frustrated, angry, resentful, and powerless, remember that it is temporary. Make it through these last few months to summer and things will probably look a whole lot better next school year.
And, when it is finally, truly over, we will all have a greater appreciation for all the people, places, and experiences we will soon be welcoming back into our lives.
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