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Teacher mental health and well-being are critically important as educators seek to manage their professional and personal lives in the wake of the pandemic

7 tips for teacher mental health

Teacher mental health and well-being are critically important as educators seek to manage their professional and personal lives in the wake of the pandemic

When COVID struck, schools and teachers had to pivot quickly, adapting to lockdowns and online classes on the fly. Naturally, there were a lot of stumbles. Teachers are only human, and trying to become familiarized with a new world of online technology and new teaching techniques while trying to keep students engaged–well, it was difficult, to say the least.

While the stress of those first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic has abated, teachers are still under pressure two years later. Many students lost ground during COVID, and teachers are still working hard to help them catch up. Some school districts have returned to in-person classes with social distancing, and others allow hybrid classrooms, so teachers have had to learn how to juggle both attendance options. Teacher prep time, lesson planning, grading, and other non-classroom tasks make for long days and often spill over into the weekends.

Teachers have always worked long hours, often using the weekends to catch up, but the pandemic shone a spotlight on the many demands of teaching. Fortunately, it also highlighted some solutions. Following are seven tips for maintaining teacher mental health and well-being that will help you manage your career and your personal life.

1. Maintain a Healthy Life-Work Balance

Teachers work all the time, so when I say take evenings off, I expect laughter. However, it’s necessary to carve out time just for you and your family, and then make that time inviolable. Here are some tips that can help ensure a healthy life-work balance:

Choose your long days. Maybe that means grading only two evenings a week. Pick those days and then stick to them.

Embargo your emails. You may have to answer your e-mails during the week, but you can put a hard stop at 5 p.m. Or you can set a rule – no sending or reading work emails on the weekends.

Work at work, not at home. For teachers who teach in-person, if you can do your work at work, then you don’t have to take it home with you. This helps with setting boundaries and preserving your time. You might accomplish this by going in early or staying late a few days a week, or perhaps by working through your lunch break so that you don’t have to take things home.

Find your balance. Find what works best for you. Maybe that means Sunday is your day for rest, family time, or errands. Maybe Wednesday is your long day, so that means pizza for dinner. Whatever routine you establish, make sure it’s a healthy balance for you.

2. Work Smarter

We’ve all heard the saying: work smarter, not harder. Sometimes we think, I’m already working smarter! It’s worth taking another look, though. One solution is collaboration.In a traditional classroom, teachers often feel isolated. We close the door and teach our classes. We keep our lesson plans and classroom activities to ourselves. We forget that our fellow teachers can be a resource.

What if two fourth-grade teachers collaborated on lesson planning from week to week, with one doing the planning and both using the plan for teaching? In this way, two teachers can design lessons without doubling efforts, and both can save time and energy.

3. Reasonable Pacing

For most teachers, it’s go, go, go from the first bell until the last student leaves the building, with a mere 30-minute break for lunch. Sometimes it can be that way when you’re in the classroom, too, as we try to plow through the content students need as efficiently as we can. But what if you slowed down your lesson plans? What if you took three days to explore the water cycle, instead of just one day? Reasonable pacing means you can cover lessons in a way that is sustainable and lasting. When students spend time learning and applying concepts, they are more likely to retain what they learn and make connections to their lives.

4. Automatic Grading

Learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas can feel impersonal, but taking advantage of learning technologies can give you time back and reduce the workload. For instance, if you administer an online quiz that’s automatically graded, you can still analyze the results and design future instruction based on students’ responses. In this way, you can assess students’ understanding of a concept without having to hand grade everything.

5. Just Say No (So You Can Say Yes)

Committees, parent groups, presentations – all of these opportunities eat at your available time, creating more stress and sapping your energy. The trick is to be aware of what is most important to you and volunteering for responsibilities that align with your values. When you serve on a committee that is important to you, you feel that your time is well spent. When other see that you are devoting your time to specific areas of interest, they will be more forgiving when you pass on other opportunities.

6. Develop New Skills

COVID brought us into the hybrid world of teaching, but the truth is, this new world is both a curse and a blessing. Developing proficiency in new technology ultimately will make your job easier rather than harder, but we all know that learning to use new technologies can produce a lot of anxiety. Here’s my advice:

If you don’t have a lot of experience with a new learning technology, start small. Create a syllabus. Set up a practice quiz. Record a short video. As you become confident using each tool, you can begin experimenting with different ways to engage students. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your tech skills won’t be either. Be patient with yourself.

When used well, remote technology is another valuable tool in your toolkit, and not just for teaching. Teleconferencing technology is an excellent way to bring professionals together for professional development and leadership opportunities.

Even if you don’t collaborate with your colleagues, no one understands what you’re going through like your peers. Just as with family and friends, make sure to reach out, even if it’s just a cup of coffee or a walk together to get your steps in.

7. Prepare for Change

Finally, prepare for change. This means mental preparation, such as following current events and keeping up with trends and issues in education. It means being willing to try new things – not just new technology, but also new ideas for the classroom. Maybe it means going back to school for a certificate or an advanced degree, so you aren’t left behind when it’s time for your career to move forward.

Teachers work hard. We do important work. Whether it’s technology usage or time management, it is important to intentionally select and utilize strategies that support you as a teacher and as a person. Once you do, maintaining a life-work balance will pay off in terms of classroom effectiveness, career satisfaction, and personal contentment.

Just remember: You’ve got this – you’re a teacher!

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