Practicing Self-Care During Pandemic Teaching

Jun 29, 2021

Let’s face it, we are in a challenging season of life. Educators everywhere, and I mean literally everywhere, feel an apprehension and anxiety about being a teacher right now. Whether they're with students in-person, trying to build relationships and engage students behind a mask, or they're figuring out how to be highly effective in reaching their students in a still unfamiliar virtual space, so many teachers are feeling the weight of this school year. Much of the anxiety seems to be rooted in the unknown.

Will I be able to do this?

How can I possibly engage 1st graders from 6 feet away?

Is it even possible to get students to show up for Zoom lessons?

What if a student comes in sick?

What is this year going to look like?

As educators continue to move into the unknown, it is crucial that they first realize that they’re not traversing into the unknown alone. No one has mastered the art of teaching during a global pandemic. Few people have had to teach in a social distance classroom before, or on Zoom, or in some weird hybrid model. This is new territory for all of us. While this fall semester at times may feel isolating, know that there are millions of teachers around the world who are in the same boat. Solidarity often brings peace.

However, surviving and thriving this season of unknowns also requires deliberate practices from educators in the midst of it all. Here are 4 things every educator should do to practice self-care to thrive during pandemic-teaching.

Stay Connected With Colleagues

One of the key indicators of a healthy person with a strong well-being is someone who is in community with others. Research shows that relationships reduce stress and even have an impact on physical health. This is why it is so vital that educators stay connected with their colleagues, especially during this time.Few people beyond those who work in schools understand the daily pressures, stresses, and joys of being an educator. Teachers need people who they can commiserate and celebrate with. They need elders for wisdom, younger ones for energy, people in the same boat as themselves to share and receive ideas.

Staying connected with colleagues right now might take extra effort. It might mean scheduling Zoom calls after hours, or having a conversation while either person sits on opposite sides of a classroom. But this effort is worth it to maintain your personal well-being.

Develop a Reflection Practice

Part of caring for yourself well is taking the time to simply reflect. In the midst of loaded schedules and packed calendars, finding 15 minutes at the end of each day to pause and reflect on what went well and what could use improvement is not easy. However, creating an intentional practice of reflection is essential. Author Jennifer Porter writes that, “Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning.”

If all we ever do is move on to the next thing— the next class, the next assignment, the next lesson, the next podcast, the next meeting, the next day— then we never get a chance grow from all of these experiences. Whether it’s through journaling, meditation, reading and reflecting on a set of prompts, or simply turning off the radio on the drive home, finding time to reflect can have a measurable effect on your performance and well-being.

Indulge in Non-School Activities

Education books are great. Educator Facebook and Instagram pages are great. Educator podcasts are great. Continually absorbing information and ideas to learn and grow as an educator is great.

But you also need to regularly take off your teacher hat. A healthy life is a well-balanced life, and so only consuming teacher resources and engaging in teacher activities can actually be counterproductive as a teacher. You need time as a person, a friend, a parent, and a hobbyist if you want to be a successful teacher. So regularly invest time to go on hikes, read novels, try new hobbies, listen to non-teacher podcasts, or whatever else helps you fill your cup so that it can overflow to others when you put your teacher hat back on.

Offer Yourself Grace When You Are Less Than Perfect

I don’t know if you need to hear this or not, so I will say it anyway: you don’t need to be perfect to be a great teacher.

That’s right, you don’t have to grade every assignment, make every lesson huge and exciting, sign up for every committee, and respond to every parent email within 5 minutes to be highly effective. You only have so much capacity, especially now, and you cannot expect yourself to be perfect at everything you do. Now more than ever, you need to offer yourself grace for when you are imperfect. If a lesson did not go great, forgive yourself; you will get another chance tomorrow. If you were short and snapped a little too loud at a student for playing Fortnite during your Zoom meeting, forgive yourself again.

There is too much going on right now to be bogged down by unnecessary shame and guilt. Instead, offer yourself grace and extend that grace to others. Freeing yourself from the pressure to be perfect will give you so much more capacity to thrive in the work you do.

Because make no mistake about it, if you care for yourself during this pandemic while simultaneously caring for your students, it is possible that this year won’t actually be a wash and you and your students can actually thrive.

For more ways to thrive in this (temporary) virtual teaching environment, check out my new online course.

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