Remote learning, hybrid learning, and teaching in-person during a pandemic have all been so challenging for teachers. Teachers have had to find ways to keep going during these extraordinary times. Endless prepping, teaching to black screens, learning new technology, and relentless criticism have all taken a toll on teachers.
More than any other time in my 26-year teaching career, I often find myself in tears at the end of a tough day. What can teachers do? Here are some tips and strategies for surviving those challenging, tough days.
1. Create a "Tough Day Survival Plan"
Figure out what absolutely must be done, and do it. If you skip this step, you will end up constantly perseverating about what you should be doing, and you may not be able to relax.
Further Reading: 10 Ways to Avoid Teacher Burnout (Infographic)
Then try some of these stress relievers:
- Experience a bit of nature: During a pandemic, it's often difficult to experience nature. It might mean wrapping yourself in a blanket and sitting with a warm cup of cocoa on your deck. It might be plunking yourself under a tree for a little bit and just enjoying staring at the grass. It might even be driving to your favorite spot and looking out the car window. Nature is unbelievably restorative.
- Get some exercise (or not): Exercise is another well-proven stress-reliever. If you can muster it, a workout will help. If you can't, curling up on the sofa with a good book is fine, too.
- Let your loved ones know when you're struggling: If you're a parent or caregiver, you might not have the luxury of being able to snuggle up with a book or sit on your deck. Having a mutually understandable "tough day survival plan" setup with family members can mean your partner picks up the slack when you're feeling down, and you can do the same for them when they're feeling blue. Kids who are old enough to comprehend this concept can help, too.
- Make sure you don't overdo it: Sometimes, when you have a bad day, the first thing you want to do is indulge: in greasy food, chocolate, or two or three of those boxes of wine in the fridge. Try to resist this urge. In the long run, you'll only end up feeling worse.
2. Understand That You Can't Do Everything, So STOP TRYING
My school is currently in remote mode. That means I had to learn how to navigate all the Googles—Drive, Docs, Slides, Forms, Meet, and Classroom—as well as Zoom, very quickly. Sometimes in meetings or online, I hear my fellow teachers talking about using apps like Padlet or Choice, and I feel like I should be using those applications, too.
However, it's important for teachers to focus on what we can do well during these unprecedented times. So, I remind myself my two main priorities are building relationships with my students and helping them learn and achieve remotely. I found I'm able to do that using the tools I've mastered right now. It's not necessary to learn everything to be successful.
3. Learn the McKenzie Method
You're going to thank me for this one. The McKenzie Method is a series of exercises designed by physical therapist Robin McKenzie to relieve back pain. I discovered these exercises when I had a horrible bout of sciatica, and they changed my life. Now, I do them several times a day between Zoom calls.
The first three exercises in the method—lying down, lying face down in extension, and extension in lying—are all you need. They can help relieve the physical pain of stress and tension throughout your body. They'll help enable you to calm down, relax, and regroup.
4. Clean up Your Work Area
An article in Harvard Business Review suggests, "When our space is a mess, so are we." And it's true. Messy areas can lead to anxiety and stress. HBR found that "Physical environments significantly influence our cognition, emotions, and behavior, affecting our decision-making and relationships with others."
So, when you're having a bad day, it might be worth it to stop and straighten up a bit. Even though it's probably the last thing you feel like doing, it can help you recover from a tough day.
5. Connect with People Who Lift You Up
We all have friends who have our back no matter what the situation. Never Debbie Downers, these are people who consistently buoy us back up when we feel like we're sinking. Think about that friend who knows exactly what to say when you're feeling down—the person who will point out your recent accomplishments or help you laugh at a situation. Everyone needs that go-to buddy who can lift you up when you need it the most.
6. Mute Everyone and Everything
When you're having a tough day, the "noise" can be overwhelming. Mute your cousin who is talking about making sourdough bread from scratch and building a deck on the back of her house. Mute the politics. Mute the "How to Look Better on Zoom" videos. Mute the email. Mute it all.
7. Have a Good Cry If You Need It
Medical News Today says crying releases oxytocin and endorphins—chemicals that can make you feel good, as well as ease both physical and emotional pain. Further, tears "contain stress hormones," and crying can release those hormones, thus reducing stress. So go ahead: have a good bawl if you're able. The science is on your side with this one.
Further Reading: Getting Help Is One of the Best Classroom Management Techniques
I think we can all agree tough days are a bit tougher (and more frequent) during a pandemic. There are, however, some things you can do to make those challenging days a wee bit better. Having a plan to triage yourself can really help!