There is no doubt about it. The pandemic has worn the teaching profession a bit fine. According to a survey from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, long work hours coupled with the difficulty of separating work from home life has reduced job satisfaction by over 15%.
Even after remote learning became normalized, teachers reported feeling overwhelmed and overworked. Another study from the Center on Reinventing Public Education showed that teachers worked an average of six additional hours per week during the pandemic than before. Nearly a quarter of teachers reported working more than 56 hours a week.
Also, many educators tend to become compassion-fatigued, also known as suffering from secondary traumatic stress (STS). It is well known that teachers often take on the trauma of their students. During a pandemic, this tendency has even more significant consequences for mental health within the industry.
Burnout is rampant. Teachers need help to refresh the teaching profession and meet the new challenges of teaching in a newly formed world.
The Biggest Challenges (and Their Solutions) from Pandemic Learning Environments
Getting children to follow the rules can be like herding cats at the best of times. A pandemic is most decidedly not the best of times. From keeping masks appropriately on faces to making sure everyone is keeping up with concepts during virtual learning, teachers had extra-full plates this past year.
Getting Students to Leave a Mask On
Just like their parents, students do not always want to wear a mask or wear it properly if they have one on. Child-sized masks may be less available, so making an adult mask fit is a challenge in itself.
Teachers need a fun way to reinforce mask-wearing. Some ideas include:
- Use stuffed animals to demonstrate the correct way to wear a face mask. Give the animal a name and bring it up in conversation with students. See if you can find one that resembles the school mascot if possible.
- Show age-appropriate videos about mask-wearing. We Are Teachers makes videos for students from pre-K through high school. Most videos use fun music, animation, and modeling by same-age children to reinforce proper mask-wearing.
- Tell social stories. Social stories are helpful, especially for kids on the autism spectrum, to understand social cues. Small children also need to learn these cues. Use the stories to explain mask-wearing without scaring them about COVID-19 or other diseases. The Autism Resource Center has social story topics for children and adults.
- Keep talking about it. You can't broach the topic only once. Remind students about mask guidelines during circle time or morning meeting. Periodically quiz students about how face masks help protect everyone's health.
Teaching While Masked
Wearing a mask makes it harder to project your voice across a classroom. Straining to be heard can lead to sore throats and laryngitis.
Find ways to use fewer words and talk less to give your voice a break. Rely more on hand signals, head nods, and other non-verbal communication methods. Also, try using a microphone made for the classroom or some other amplifier system.
Keeping Students in Seats
Let's face it. This is always a problem. However, kids coming back from remote learning have probably picked up a few bad habits, like taking their classes while sitting on a couch or lying on a bed. Nobody has been around to nag them about sitting up properly or staying seated for the duration of a class.
- Take wiggle breaks, even for bigger kids. Remind them to keep a safe distance as they get out their energy during breaks.
- Use fidget toys. Invite kids to bring quiet, approved fidget toys from home or keep a basket for kids to check out. Stress balls and tangle toys are good options. Show the students how to clean the toys with antibacterial wipes before handing them back in.
- Use learning stations. Stations allow students to move from one station to another. Even if they aren’t moving far, the act of standing or walking helps reduce excess energy. Include a corner where students can lounge with a good book.
Reinforcing the Rules
Teachers are probably just as bored as their students hearing and saying rules. But it is essential for student and teacher health that everyone remains aware of the rules.
Go over the rules whenever you return to the classroom and review them often. Older students may respond to an activity where they list the rules they want before voting on which to follow.
Display the rules in a classroom poster and help everyone along with songs and videos incorporating the rules. Share the schedules for lunch or library time by writing them on the board or handing a sign.
Teaching In-Person and Online Simultaneously
Technology challenges abound in keeping everyone logged on and paying attention. It can be challenging to ascertain whether online students struggle to understand the material like their in-school peers.
Make the most of the technology you have by asking for advice from those who have been there. There are resources like The Friendly Teacher, Hannah Wild or True Life, I’m a teacher by Theresa Copeland to help you figure out the best way forward.
Also, keep your perspective. Virtual paired with live school won’t last forever. Everyone is sharing the challenge, so focus on connecting with students wherever they are to keep them engaged. Also, resist comparing this year with last year. Many lessons have been learned that you can now use to make things easier.
What to Do to Improve the Coming Year
- Review your lesson plans to determine what did and didn’t work. Monitor internet trends and social media to increase engagement.
- Prepare digital documents correctly. Update all learning materials to ensure they are the most useful you can find.
- Connect with colleagues. The team spirit will help everyone learn new and better teaching methods.
- Set new goals and write them down daily. It helps you visualize steps to take to complete tasks and take action.
- Take a break and find time for yourself every day. Disconnect from work and recharge using hobbies and relaxation.
Teachers need help from schools and administrators to drive change. Administrators should take steps to help all school employees protect their mental health and avoid burnout. Avoid dispensing vague or impractical guidance and include teachers in new plans.
Ensure the structures and practices are appropriate and non-intrusive. Allow time for self-care and reflection. Create an environment where everyone works together to reach for the vision for your school.