Many teachers have suddenly found themselves teaching from the most unexpected place: home. Although you may have lots of new colleagues (your family members and pets), access to a refrigerator and pantry, and plenty of comfortable places to work from, the challenge to adjust to working in that environment can be a bumpy transition.
We’re here to help.
1. Create a Rough Schedule and Stick to It
Changing from an imposed schedule to imposing one on yourself can be tricky. In addition, your home has likely always been a place where you go to sort of “escape” work and any stressors it may bring. Now you’re inviting it into your home, and maybe not even voluntarily. It should come as no surprise that you might experience some confusion and difficulty snapping into a new schedule and routine at home.
Do yourself a favor and give yourself some clear ways to differentiate between your “work” time and your “home” time.
Things like making your bed each morning, working from a desk or table, and dressing as you normally would for work may help to make the transition easier. Although these things are largely symbolic, they may help you to distance yourself from becoming too relaxed and “at home”. They may motivate you to transition to working even though you aren’t leaving the house and going to school each morning.
Whenever possible, don’t work from your bed or your bedroom. Studies have shown that doing so can throw off your sleeping routine seriously and add to your stress.
If you’re still on “school time” regardless of spring break or other interruptions, use that as inspiration. Some things will just naturally fall into place, but many of the school routines you’ve been operating with are likely significantly changed now.
One helpful thing you may consider if your schedule is completely changed is to create an “anchor”’ activity to cling to each day. Either schedule calls or online interactions with others during a particular part of the day, or even create an outing (taking a drive around town without stopping for anything, or taking a walk each day, for example). When you have one non-negotiable thing set, you may find it easier to stay focused and get some work done.
You may need to try a few different schedules before you find the one that is just right for you, but it’s important to keep trying until you are able to successfully build your schedule. Once you’ve gotten your daily schedule planned out, stick to it as consistently as possible.
One part of the working from home routine many people neglect is quitting time. It’s very important that you establish a daily time to stop working when you work from home. It’s otherwise very easy to just keep going until you burn yourself out. When you don’t set a quitting time, you may stay up working on things too late, which will throw your morning schedule off, and things just kind of unravel from there.
Having a limited amount of time each day to work on certain things will actually increase your probable productivity in every area.
It may be important for you to set timers and work on specific tasks in short “spurts”. Creating a short window in which to complete some things may keep your desire to procrastinate at bay.
2. Establishing Routines
Just as establishing routines in the classroom helps create a productive atmosphere, you will need routines for yourself at home. Although your schedule doesn’t have to be “to the minute” as it does with teaching in a classroom setting, it helps to eat lunch at about the same time every day, take regular breaks from sitting at the computer, and make time for other things still happening in your life each day.
If you have a set time each day for making phone calls and returning e-mails, a specific time for planning, and another time for wrapping things up, you may find yourself feeling a lot more comfortable working from home more quickly than you would without. Even setting a time for coffee and snack breaks, routine exercise, and a pet playtime/snuggle can make those things more enjoyable.
You don’t have to schedule every single thing, but when you’re used to not even getting the opportunity to go to the bathroom, you may feel lost without some self-imposed restrictions.
Don’t just set times to begin things. Use timers to create limits for yourself, especially in the beginning. Once you’ve gotten your routines down, you may not need that much help.
Another important way that routines can help is with organization. Your teacher station is likely to become a mess quickly! Along with your other routines, establish a specific time limit for returning dirty dishes to the sink if you eat from your desk. Make a place for documents you are actively working with (like curriculum or hard copies of things you’re using), one for things you’re done using, and be sure to keep up with your filing and putting books and materials away.
3. Colleagues of the Young and Furry Varieties
One of the biggest challenges teachers are reporting is dealing with their own kids and pets while trying to work.
If you have very young children, you may want to try creating and using busy bags or work boxes. Save some activities or toys they really enjoy in reusable bags or open boxes and only get them out when you need to be actively working, especially if you need to be on a phone or video call.
If you have little ones who nap and adhere to a good schedule, you can work around their awake and most active hours. Many things can be done while they are asleep.
If your kids are older (school-aged), make your work time coincide with theirs. You may need a few days to help them get established in their own classwork and routine, but once you’ve gotten them through that, tell them you’ve made a time that you all really need to work independently.
Whenever possible, have them do all they can without you. Create a time in your schedule specifically for answering questions and helping them with things they could not do independently. This may help them relax into the schedule and routine as well.
Before you participate in video or phone calls, talk to your kids and lay out some ground rules for communicating with you at appropriate times. You might even practice with them. For early childhood teachers, it may be most useful to explain that what you need from them is similar to what they would do if their class was working during reading groups or some other groups.
For those times when you need to be working but not actively involved in a video or phone chat, consider using earplugs to take the edge off of the household noises. Sometimes kids and pets just need to let off some steam and get loud, but you still have things to do.
Pets are sometimes thrilled that we are home to hang out with them, but they may need more attention than you’ve planned to devote solely to them. Consider structuring times for walks or playtimes so they can get the attention they crave as well, which will hopefully keep them from trying to participate in any meetings you may have online or on the phone.
It’s not necessarily unprofessional to have your pets and children about during meetings, as we all know we’re all at home and have lots of “additional guests” in each house that may yearn for some screen time. Many students will enjoy spending time with pets and seeing some of your family.
However, whenever possible, set up cameras to show an empty wall or uncluttered area behind you since clutter and family traffic can be distracting. Include pets and children intentionally, but try to limit too many disturbances.
Also remember that if your camera is facing an empty wall near you, there is less chance of accidental “nudity bombs” by family members (especially early in the morning or late in the evening).
4. Getting Help From the Outside World
Don’t forget that although you may be isolated, you are not alone, and you aren’t expected to learn everything completely independently.
YouTube has more videos than anyone can reasonably understand, and there are many resources there to help users through an introduction to new platforms they may be teaching through. In addition, companies that own the platforms usually have very good, user-friendly videos that can walk you through the different features of their product.
Make a friend who has been working with your platform for a bit longer, and don’t underestimate the value of coworkers who are a little ahead of the game tech-wise who might be able to help you answer questions.
In addition to learning new platforms, creating new routines and schedules, and all of the other things you have to do to keep up with that are different now, you may be overwhelmed with lesson creation and the actual teaching portion of your job. Whenever possible, share the workload with other colleagues so you can each work on portions that are most comfortable for everyone.
Just because you are not in the same building with your colleagues doesn’t mean you can’t still work together on things.
5. Grieving the Loss of Your Space
Emotionally, this experience can be incredibly trying for the most resilient among us. We don’t know from one day to the next exactly what we will be facing, and the turmoil can cause you to be considerably more emotional than unusual. You may find yourself in tears, feeling angry, or overwhelmed with the desire for everything to just “go back to normal” numerous times a day (or hour, at that).
Among these difficulties, you may find yourself even grieving the loss of your classroom. After all, it’s the place we spend most of our time awake. It’s only natural that you miss it.
In those times, know that you are not alone and that there are educators all across the United States and in countries all over the world experiencing that same feeling. Our world has changed in ways we won’t even be able to fully comprehend for years to come.
Feeling a sense of grief and loss is perfectly natural, and unfortunately, the only way through it - to avoid creating a deeper trauma - is to just face it head-on. Go through it. Get it all out. Then pick yourself up, press the power button, log into your new virtual classroom, and teach again.
We are so thankful for you all. Please let us know if there are ways we can help and support you during this time.