These are challenging times for teachers. In many schools, vaccination rates are low and masks are not mandated. In this environment, teacher self-care is more important than ever. Use these 6 strategies to help you stay calm so that you can be the amazing teacher that you are and to set a positive and calm tone for your students.
Watch the video or read the transcript below.
Hey there, teachers. Today, we are going to go right down the middle of it. We are going to talk about COVID, teaching during COVID and specifically how to maintain a calm classroom while teaching in the midst of a pandemic. I’m Rachel Lynette. You may know me from my Minds in Bloom from Teachers Pay Teachers or from my newest venture, Teach Yourself Care, where I talk all about teacher self-care. I know you are very much aware you set the tone for your classrooms, so it’s super important that you stay calm and that you are there for your students in that way. I just want to give you a few suggestions along those lines.
The first suggestion I have is before you’re even in the classroom, when you are at home, before you even have students, just to spend a few minutes to think about those situations that are going to come up that could produce some anxiety, that could be challenging, things that are maybe a little different than what you’ve experienced in the past. Think about ways to manage your centers, ways to manage times when students are going to be close to each other. Think about how you’re going to handle it with a student that has a difficult time wearing a mask. What you’re going to do when students are experiencing really hard emotions. Maybe some of your students have had a loss. What you’re going to do when students have difficult questions. Maybe your school has a policy on how you answer difficult questions, but the whole COVID thing has been so politicized that you might have a fine line to walk, but thinking about those things ahead of time and having answers ready to go or solutions ready to go, all set right at the front of your brain is going to help to reduce your own feelings of anxiety and make you feel. Well, Not even feel, know that you are prepared for this situation. Spend some time, maybe do some writing and think about what might come up. Maybe you could brainstorm or talk with another teacher friend and you can talk together about this.
The next thing to think ahead about is the tone that you want to set in your classroom. Now, I have to say this is a little out of my wheelhouse. I have a psychology degree, but I am not a psychologist. I’m not a counselor, but I did do a bunch of reading. What I read was that you want to maintain a positive classroom, which I know you know, but not do that toxic positivity thing. Not do that thing where you’re brushing over things in order to stay positive. You’re just brushing over difficult things, questions students might have, real emotions because then students don’t feel heard and they don’t feel safe. There’s that balance between being positive, but not being completely positive.
The other thing is that it’s really important not to assure students that everything’s going to be all right because honestly, it might not be and it might not have been for students already. A student really could get sick. You want to be as reassuring as possible and talk about how we’ve put in all these safety measures. We are protecting each other. We are a caring classroom or a community, and we wear our masks and we socially distance to protect each other. You can’t guarantee your students that nothing bad is going to happen, and so try not to just say it’s all going to be fine. It’s going to be all right because that’s not necessarily the truth. I hope you can find that balance and stay positive as much as you can while still being open to students and what they need.
Now I want to talk about how to stay calm in the classroom and what to do when you start to feel anxious. Now, I just want to be really clear. I’m not talking about panic attacks. That’s a whole different thing. Please get professional help if you are having panic attacks. This is just your normal run-of-the-mill anxiety that might be heightened because of the pandemic. The first thing to do is to be hyper aware of the feelings in your body that are, that are anxious feelings. Really be aware of what’s going on in your body. Oh, my goodness. My heart’s racing a little. I’m sweating. I’ve got a little bit of a headache. There’s something going on in my tummy. I have a rock in my stomach. Oh, I’m talking too fast or I’m talking too loud. Oh, goodness. Look at me. I’m tapping my foot. I’m tapping my fingers. I have some other nervous, repetitive thing that’s going on in my body. You can teach your students to do this too.
One thing you might want to do is just a how are we doing check and have all your students give you a thumbs up, a thumbs down or a sideways thumbs. If your students are having a hard time, that might be a good time to do a whole class calm down. When you are feeling anxious, whether it’s you or your whole classroom, I bet you know what I’m going to say because this is the hallmark of calming down and it’s breathing. It’s because it works. It really, really does work, to slow down and take that deep breath. The reason it works is it gets your whole body to calm down and it reminds your body that you’re not in danger. This is not a fight or flight situation.
Another thing that I just read that can help is to look up at the sky. Have your whole class look up or maybe out a window, but it’s about looking up because when you’re in danger, like if you’re out in the woods and something was chasing you and you are in danger, you would not be looking up. When you look up, you signal your body that you are not in danger. Putting your hand on your heart is another really good way to calm down your whole body. Just doing 30 seconds of slow breathing or three slow breaths with your class, or even by yourself. Maybe you’re having a hard time during your planning time. Maybe your students are all occupied and you can just, at your desk or in the back of the classroom, take your slow breaths, but that breathing really does make a difference.
While you’re breathing or you’re done breathing, the next thing that can really help is just to give yourself a little reminder, these are not normal times. You are teaching during a stressful time that except for the end of last year, we’ve never really seen in our lifetime and that you are doing the best you can. Furthermore, that it’s not going to last. This is not the new normal of teaching. We will get to teach again without masks. Then the last thing to do to stay calm is just to do the next thing. Don’t worry about the next five things, just worry about the next thing. What is the next thing that you need to do right now? Do you need to dim the lights because people are getting a little bit loud? Do you need to remind a couple kids subtly and quietly to pull up their masks? Do you need to help somebody with a math problem? Do you need to get a drink of water? What is the next thing that you need to do? Do that next thing and then do the thing after that, and then do the thing after that. Pretty soon, you’ll be back in the flow of your day and those anxious feelings will be in the past.
Thank you so much for spending a few minutes of your super valuable time with me. Please do consider subscribing to this YouTube channel, following me on social media, signing up for my email on my blog, teachyourselfcare.com and watching another video. Be the amazing teacher that you are and be kind to yourself.
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