Countless educators made the sudden switch from face-to-face learning to crisis remote learning this year and have been working 10 to 12 hour days just to stay on top of things for months. Now that the school year has come to a close, many of those educators are exhausted, with every small reserve of energy left completely depleted.
Although every school year ends with the kind of tired that only comes with the end of the school year, this year the exhaustion is far deeper than any educators have ever known in the past. Teachers are grieving so many losses - not just of life, but of graduations, time spent with students, their space, safety, job security, and little in the way of a sure path forward.
And from within this tidal wave of loss, grief, and exhaustion, teachers are suddenly getting glimpses of a near, new future that looks incredibly grim. Not only will there likely be many changes to schooling in the near future, there are many districts planning to start the year earlier by as much as a month.
This means that an overtaxed, undersupported, completely exhausted education community is getting less of a summer than they desperately need. Teachers will be starting the next term, whenever that may be, with a physical, mental, emotional, and, in many cases, financial deficit.
In a vocation that was already losing many workers, this may be the nail in the coffin for many areas of public education if national, state, and local leaders, as well as district and building administrators, don’t do something to maintain the health and safety of teachers and front-line workers immediately.
That essential care includes finding ways to provide for teachers to get some rest. Here are some ways to offer that vital support.
With added vital training for the possible need to switch to remote learning at any point added on to professional development that’s already required, there is very little “summer” (if any at all) available for teachers.
While that may not seem like a big deal to those in the corporate world, or to parents, when your body and mind have been trained a certain way for years and that suddenly changes, your body and mind don’t necessarily get the memo.
As we mentioned before, most teachers are overworked, stressed and exhausted, so having a normal summer would be difficult to bounce back from.
Going all year with no real break to speak of may break your teachers.
They need time off to go to doctors’ appointments and take their families if medical facilities are available for that in your area.
They need time with their family without the added stress of trying to teach at the same time.
They need time to regroup and gather themselves to prepare for the next year.
They need to know what to expect next year before they can plan.
Give teachers as much time as possible to rest. Fight for them to get that time. You’ve got to get as far ahead of the deficit as you can or teachers will have a very difficult time coping with anything coming.
Time Off During the School Year
Teachers don’t want to miss school, and they certainly don’t want to miss more school than they have before. Unfortunately, emotional stress and trauma cause physical systems to breakdown. Immunity compromised temporarily from any illness will make teachers susceptible to complications and things like COVID-19.
Districts and administrators need to be willing and able to send teachers home at any sign of illness and have them stay there until they are well.
Safe Spaces Within the School
Transitioning back to the classroom with all the changes that are likely to come is going to be very difficult for teachers. There will be emotions - big emotions - and teachers will need space to deal with that.
It would be good for building admins to set aside a space - even just a closet - for teachers to go in, shut the door, de-stress, cry if they need to, and regroup before going back into the classroom.
This is actually not a new need. Most teachers cry in the bathroom, in the hall outside their classrooms, in the administrator’s office, or in their cars. Offering a physical safe space with the intention of providing room for big, negative emotions will give your teachers the emotional space they will need to face many of the challenges ahead.
We talk a lot about social-emotional learning and training for students. Schools need to be more responsible for the impact they are making on the emotional and mental health of their teachers. There is no way to truly teach social-emotional health to students until the adults around them are able to model healthy stress management.
Administrators, now more than ever, have got to step up and take that role seriously.