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A Pep Talk to Survive Teaching in a Pandemic

How to survive a stressful school year

A pep talk for teaching in a pandemic, how to survive a stressful school year

Teaching in a pandemic – who could have EVER predicted this would be our lives? This year (2020) is one for the history books – literally. Whether you are reading this as you start the 20-21 school year in these bizarre circumstances, or you are reading this in the future, post-pandemic (please, for the love, tell us there is hope that this will one day be over!!) in your more average/run-of-the-mill stressful school year, I hope to encourage you with a little PEP TALK.

Whether you are teaching fully virtually, are face-to-face but with major restrictions/limitations, or managing some wonky hybrid model – THIS IS FOR YOU!

Whether you are in the classroom full time this year or attempting to work from home full time this year with kiddos alongside you – THIS IS FOR YOU.

Whether you have consistent childcare set up (and that is stressful because it means #exposure) or you don’t (which is stressful because it means you are with your kids allllll day every day) – THIS IS FOR YOU.

No matter where you are, I am here to be your hype man! This pep talk is as much for you as it is for me. Here is how I am approaching this very stressful school year of teaching in a pandemic:

1. Accept the current reality of our circumstances.

First and foremost, we have to accept that this is our reality for the inevitable future. We are teaching, working, living, EXISTING in a PANDEMIC. This is a BIG DEAL. We’ve been in this for 5+ months now, and I know for me, I often forget the toll it has taken on my mental and emotional health and capacity. Simple things like going to the grocery store are NOT simple anymore. Everything is harder.

If you are anything like me, back in March you hunkered down, thinking this was only going to be a few weeks. Then April came and you took a deep breath (and let’s be real, maybe had a cocktail) and decided, “Okay, let’s suck it up. Just a few more weeks. We will make it.” Then this summer happened and the whole time you thought, “Oh things HAVE to be back to normal by fall…right? RIGHT???”

Andddd here we are September 1st and things are in fact NOT back to normal, not even in the slightest. We are now at the point where we have to accept that this is the state of our lives, for the inevitable future.

I legitimately think there is a bit of grieving we all have to walk through first before we can really come to accept our new reality. We have to mourn that this is NOT the way any of us wanted this year to go. This is NOT how you wanted to be teaching / raising your children / whatever else is currently on your plate. This was no one’s first choice.

Once we grieve what “should have been”, we can stop fighting our circumstances and figure out how to work through them.

2. Adjust.

Once we’ve accepted the circumstances of our year, now it is time to adjust, starting with our expectations. We all have to adjust both our expectations for ourselves AND our expectations for our students.

First, lower your expectations for yourself. This is not the year that you need to be striving for teacher of the year. Set the bar at what is doable for you and YOUR mental health. Create habits and boundaries between your work life and home life. I know this is especially hard for those of you whose work life has infiltrated your home life, but it is possible. If you are anything like me, this is going to be a lot slower pace than you are normally functioning at – AND THAT IS OKAY!!

Second, lower your expectations for your students. I know one of the mantras of 21st-century education is to RAISE THE BAR, but I am going on record to say that I have NO SHAME admitting that I am lowering the bar for myself and my students in a year like this.

Think about it – this is SUCH a stressful time to be an adult. IMAGINE BEING 14!! Or 18!! Or 7!! Whatever age you teach, it doesn’t matter. I truly cannot imagine having the hormones of a middle schooler and having to exist during this pandemic.

Okay so…how? How do we adjust? Unfortunately, I can’t make those decisions for you. Everyone’s situation is so different, and you may have certain parameters set by your district/school/department that you have to work within. Also, just personality differences and preferences must be considered. What sucks energy/life out of me may not do the same for you, and vice versa.

But I will give you one specific example. If I was in the classroom full time this year, I would personally be majorly decreasing the overall workload I placed on my students this year. I would have way fewer assignments than normal for them (and thus way fewer grades for me!) Decreasing their overwhelm will in turn decrease YOUR overwhelm.

3. Ask for help!!

I am the first to admit that I am VERY bad at this. I also know if you are a first-year teacher reading this, or teaching in a new school, you are especially scared to ask for help. But there are SO MANY PEOPLE who can help if you are willing to humble yourself and ask. Who can help??

  1. Tech person at your school (Can they give you a tutorial for Google Classroom/Canvas/Schoology/whatever LMS you are using this year??)
  2. Department chair (Can they help you come up with a reasonable/realistic/manageable amount of assignments to grade for your students?)
  3. A friendly admin (Would they be willing to give you a budget to purchase some resources or online tools to decrease the burden placed on you this year so you can focus your energy on all of the other tasks that go into your job?)
  4. Another teacher (Would they be willing to share with you some strategies they have in place for doing contactless labs? Or getting virtual students to show up for Zoom meetings? Or maintaining test security in a hybrid setting?)
  5. ANYBODY (Would your Facebook followers like that random girl you went to high school with or your aunt who constantly writes aggressive political posts be willing to contribute to a fund for you to purchase paperless digital resources for your students? Or an Amazon wishlist of tech supplies that would make your job a whole lot easier?)

It NEVER HURTS to ask. No one will fire you for asking a question. You might as well ask!! Ask for support and ask for resources. Worst case scenario, they say no, and you are no worse off than when you started!!

4. Hold EVERYTHING loosely with “open hands”.

Don’t hold on to everything tightly. Instead, hold this year with open hands. Take this stressful year ONE DAY AT A TIME.

If you’ve been around here a while, you know I am obsessed with organization and lesson planning. I plan out an entire year, day by day, before the first day of school. This is not the year for that kind of planning.

If I was teaching full-time this year, I would plan week by week, and even then, be willing to be very flexible, knowing that tech. issues may arise, school circumstances can shift overnight, etc.

I am pretty sure we can all stack hands on this year being a MESS. But let’s not just wish it away until May (or June). There are students (or tiny humans who live with you) that you can love and care for really well and have this year NOT be a waste. Your people need you!

Let’s make the focus this year about knowing our students, loving them, and trying to get them to love learning. That’s it. Whether they pass the EOC exam or their AP exam, at the end of the day, those don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters most is the relationships you build with them – and that doesn’t require a big budget, or the best technology, or online simulations, or labs AT ALL! It just requires humans committing to love and care for other humans.



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