Teacher self-care during the pandemic: More important now than ever

  • Even in normal times, teaching is no walk in the park. Between lesson plans, classroom time, communicating with parents and caregivers, and keeping up with school and district politics, the concept of self-care can easily fall by the wayside.

    During the pandemic, there’s even more pressure. Pressure to teach both virtually and in person; pressure to keep your students progressing even with new challenges; and pressure to stay well despite the growing numbers of infections and deaths from COVID-19. You often feel like you’re doing twice the work, managing twice the risk, and sometimes only accomplishing half as much. And when the school work is done, you most likely are taking care of your family as well.

    And yet, here’s the thing. Even though you’re busier, self-care is even more important now.

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    “It’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed,” writes Brittney Newcomer, MS, LSSP, for Understood, a non-profit organization dedicated to families of children who learn differently. “You may need a reminder that practicing self-care is essential to your well-being, especially during times of uncertainty and transition.”

    The article offers five suggestions:

    • Recognize what you can and can’t control. You can control how you teach, how you budget your time, and how you take care of yourself. But, for instance, you can’t control what happens in your students’ homes during virtual learning.
    • Stay in touch with your needs and feelings. It’s easy to shove feelings to the back burner, especially when you’re busy. But take a moment to stop, stay in touch, name the feeling, and see if there’s something you need. Perhaps a brief walk outside on your next break, a protein-filled snack, or a note to yourself about a task that is taking up brain space.
    • Set and keep boundaries. If you’re working at home, the lines between job and home life can get blurry. Yes, you can have a load of laundry in while you teach, and yes, you can grade papers on the couch at night in front of the television. But the more you blur the lines, the less important self-care can seem. Make a schedule for yourself just as if life were normal. Budget in time for meditation, exercise, journaling, music, or anything else that keeps you focused, happy, and healthy. You know the saying, “A happy wife is a happy life”? Adapt it: A happy teacher equals a thriving classroom.
    • Work self-care into your day. This can be as quick and simple as remembering to breathe deeply when you’re stressed, connecting with another teacher, keeping a meaningful quote at hand, or take a moment for gratitude. And speaking of that…
    • Seek and find moments of gratitude and joy. Being mindful is a strength; it keeps you in the moment and clears your head. Even if you’ve got your entire classroom on a Zoom call, you can find moments of joy, humor, gratitude, and fulfillment. Noting these moments – and even writing them down in a notebook you keep for this purpose – will help keep you centered.

    Self-care, of course, also extends to your health habits. Have you given in to comfort eating during the pandemic? Are you having trouble sleeping? Has your exercise routine gone by the wayside?

    Dominican University Online has a series of courses that emphasize different aspects of health and wellness for the educator. All earn you continuing-education credits, and all are self-paced and online.

    “A focus on self-care and wellness has been proven to work wonders for the mind, body and classroom,” Dominican reminds us. “It is well-established in the business world that healthy people will be better at their jobs, leading to a healthier bottom line. And it is the same with teachers and students. Healthy and happy teachers and students lead to a more engaged and successful classroom.”

    Dominican’s Self-Care and Wellness courses range from nutrition to life balance to mindfulness, social connections, and resilience. Some examples:

    • Implementing Self-Care for Educators: To really commit to a program of self-care, it helps to understand why doing so is psychologically and physically important to your health. And here’s the bonus: Self-care relates to teacher retention, job satisfaction, and a reduction in burnout. In this course you’ll research self-care and implement a self-care routine. (EDUO 9054, 1-2 semester credits. Students earn one credit by logging 20 hours engaging in self-care; for two credits, you must log 45 hours.)
    • Teacher Self-Care: Managing Work and Life: Balance, balance, balance. You hear the word all the time, and it feels impossible; our worlds simply don’t always adhere to clocks or schedules. But this course focuses on strategies for work-life balance even with the realities of a teacher’s world. (EDUO 9053, 2 semester credits.)
    • Teacher Self-Care: The Science of Gratitude: It’s simple, right? Just be thankful for the good things in your life. But in reality, unless you make it a habit, you may not notice the positive things as much as you do the negative. Explore the science of gratitude and the benefits it has on your well-being. (EDUO 9052, 2 semester credits.)
    • Teacher Self-Care: Building Social Connections and Support Systems: Connecting with others and having a support system is critical to our well-being, and it can be a greater challenge during the pandemic, when we’re all at home as much as possible. Learn about the psychology behind social connection, social support, and your health. (EDUO 9051, 2 semester credits.)
    • Crafting Your Plan for Health and Wellness: Reflect on your current health status; learn about foods that enhance brain function, why hydration is essential, and how popular diets affect your body; identify stressors in your life, focus on fitness, and create a health and wellness plan for your own life. (EDUO 9780, 3 semester credits.)

    “Educators truly want to be with their students, in-person and in the classroom, in order to provide the highest quality instruction,” writes Audrey Campbell, MA, for Turn It In, a company that provides resources for educators. “But … there needs to be a balance between teachers’ well-being and the well-being of students, families, and communities.

    “With all of the differing perspectives on how to educate students safely and effectively, while also ensuring everyone is healthy and supported, the resilience and well-being of our educators becomes more important than ever. They are on the front lines of teaching in-person and online, and they are shepherding this generation of students into the next phase of global education.”

    Photo credit: Jacoblund via iStock.