Self-Care for Teachers as They Navigate the New Normal

Lindsay Rayner
Lindsay Rayner
Middle school principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership
Young teacher sitting at her desk and meditating in a colorful classroom.

In a time when so many have lost their livelihoods, and sometimes even loved ones, to COVID-19, it may seem insensitive to even mention job-related stress. Nevertheless, stress is ever-present in the education world. To cope with stress, educators must learn to care for themselves before they can care for their students.

The Importance of Self-Care for Teachers Right Now

Self-care is important for everyone, especially in times like these. While many professionals have made adjustments to their routines, perhaps none have done so more than teachers.

In some cases, teachers are working remotely, juggling the demands of childcare and the classroom. Working from home may offer more flexibility, but it also requires discipline in setting working hours. Setting boundaries may prove difficult for professionals whose typical schedule is set to the sound of bells. Without bells, teachers can easily find themselves in an endless loop of checking email, posting to digital classrooms, and answering parent phone calls.

Conversely, some teachers may find themselves spending the day caring for children and attending to household duties, somehow not quite finding the time to engage with students to the degree they would in a traditional setting.

The constant tension between work and home can lead to feelings of guilt and frustration, leaving educators feeling as though they are never doing enough, either at work or at home. This kind of stress can lead to poor family life and poor job performance.

Whether teaching remotely full-time or as part of a hybrid model (or even having to juggle both in-person and remote students simultaneously), educators are also learning entirely new modes of lesson delivery. They are being asked to learn how to navigate new Learning Management Systems, new online curriculums, and new communication methods. Teachers are sometimes doing all of this on sadly outdated equipment, resulting in often spotty student engagement.

Even in districts where students are attending in-person, teachers are faced with the task of enforcing mask-wearing, keeping students socially distant, and perhaps changing the way services are delivered. In some schools, teachers are moving classes while students are stationary. In others, students are carrying plexiglass barriers with them as they move through the halls. Lessons that were once collaborative have to be revised to fit new safety protocols. School is not the same place as it was pre-COVID.

Many districts are also asking teachers to do more in the face of budget cuts, brought about by loss of tax revenue due to COVID-19. Just at the time when teachers and students need the most support, in some states it is being taken away.

Self-Care Tips for Teachers

Get Enough Sleep. When work hours are irregular it may be easy to begin skimping on sleep. Most adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Create a soothing bedtime routine devoid of schoolwork or electronics. Establish a normal sleeping and waking time.

Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Schedule a walk. Do some yoga. Maybe even challenge yourself to run a 5k. Exercise raises endorphins and keeps stress hormones such as cortisol at healthy levels. It can also play a part in improving the quality of your sleep.

Eat properly. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Good nutrition helps the mind and body operate at peak levels.

Maintain social connectedness. Talk with friends, whether over a teleconferencing app, in-person, or over the phone. Listening and sharing with others makes us feel less alone in our struggles.

Do Good. Find a way to help others who are struggling. Perhaps volunteer at food pantry or call a homebound senior. Knowing that you have the power to help another person can make you feel empowered to help yourself.

Use your sense of humor. Find the funny moments that occur as we navigate this new normal. Understand that even the most serious of situations has a lighter side.

Understand that everything is temporary. This too shall pass. Choose your proverb, but the idea is that you will get through this tough time.

Keep a sense of perspective. No one is a perfect teacher, spouse, parent, or human being. Even when you aren’t at your best, your students will still be okay. They don’t need to be perfect, nor do you. Just show them you care and be the best you can be every day. That’s all anyone can ask.

Teaching in the age of COVID-19 is stressful, but by caring for ourselves, we can better care for our students. Nothing is more important than that.

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