By Katie Brenneman
It’s fair to say that teachers have almost always been undervalued. If you’ve been in the classroom for any length of time, you know how much time, effort, and heart you put into your job. You might buy supplies for kids out of your own wallet. You might spend extra hours at school helping your students or prepping your classroom. On top of that, you likely take work home with you each night, whether it’s papers to grade or lesson plans to put into place.
Let’s not even get started on dealing with unruly parents or unfair pay.
Simply put, it’s not easy being a teacher. However, it’s become much more difficult over the last two years in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a massive flow of teachers quitting throughout the country. Some don’t feel safe, others don’t feel valued, and some are simply “taking a break” or looking into other career paths.
If you’re a teacher or work in school administration, this mass migration can be both frightening and overwhelming. It’s especially hard if you’ve had to pick up some slack due to the shortage.
So, what can you do to cope with this lack of help? How can you get through the mass migration of teachers without compromising your own well-being?
Advocate for Change
Teachers quit in droves throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Some didn’t want to work in unsafe conditions. Others were tired of exhausting themselves with changes while experiencing unfair payment.
Maybe you decided to stay because you love your kids and your job, but that doesn’t mean you’re in love with all of your district’s policies. One of the best things you can do to cope with a lack of help in your school is to advocate for change.
Are there things you’re seeing each day that should be different? Are you getting the support you need from administrators? Do you have the right technology to effectively teach your students? Are you being asked to take on the work of multiple people because of this shortage?
Maybe the changes that need to occur are even bigger than that. Maybe your district has established policies you don’t agree with, or they’re demanding things that are beyond the scope of your job description.
Be an advocate for yourself and your fellow teachers by speaking up. Attend school board meetings to talk about your experiences. Talk to the principal and superintendent about what needs to change. They might be so busy dealing with other things that they aren’t fully aware of what teachers are dealing with daily.
It only takes one person to speak up and make a difference. However, in doing so, you might inspire your co-workers to do the same. Having other teachers speak up about the same issues will help you to feel supported and empowered.
Consider a Different Model
Throughout the pandemic, virtual learning became the norm for a majority of schools across the country. Now, most schools are back to in-person learning. However, virtual learning/teaching still has its benefits.
If you don’t feel safe going back to work in person or you found that your students were more responsive to virtual learning, talk to your district about continuing that approach, or even using a hybrid model. Today’s students are growing up in a more tech-savvy world than ever. Some might feel more comfortable learning from home or using technology to get things done, rather than sitting in a classroom.
Alternatively, maybe you’re eager to go back to in-person learning but your school is still doing things virtually. That can feel overwhelming if you’re not comfortable in front of a camera or with public speaking online. Thankfully, there are tactics you can use to make yourself more comfortable and confident in front of your virtual students, including
- Choosing the right background to free them from distractions
- Dressing the part
- Paying attention to your gestures and posture
- Making eye contact through the screen
- Speaking slowly and concisely
- Leaving time for questions and discussion
Whether you’re all for virtual learning or not, it’s important to feel confident while you’re doing it, so your students get the most out of the experience.
Again, it’s no surprise to find that many teachers feel undervalued. One survey found that even in 2014, most teachers in the U.S. felt unsupported and underappreciated. There’s no doubt that the effects of the pandemic exacerbated those feelings.
That lack of appreciation, combined with the stress of so many teachers leaving and changes happening all the time can lead to burnout. Some of the warning signs of teacher burnout are
- Lowering standards for your classroom
- A negative attitude toward your school or students
- Failing to prepare
Additionally, you might start to feel symptoms of depression, including fatigue, hopelessness, and extreme sadness. Even if you can still find things to enjoy about your job, the overwhelming stress can have negative effects on your physical and mental well-being.
As such, it’s more important than ever to practice self-care and fight back against the symptoms of burnout. You can start by creating less work for yourself. Some educators have begun weighing the pros and cons of giving homework. It would save teachers a lot of time not having to plan extra work and grade what students take home. Additionally, some research shows that spending too much time on homework can lead to anxiety and depression in children and may contribute to lower test scores.
Freeing up some of your time is important. What you do with that free time is even more important.
Self-care is about finding something that relaxes you and reduces your stress levels every day. It looks different for everyone, so consider what makes you feel your best. Try things like daily exercise, meditation, journaling, or reading. Connect with others and socialize as often as possible. By striking a better work-life balance with self-care, you’ll be able to cope in healthier ways with a stressful job situation.
No one can predict the future of education. Whether there will eventually be a teacher resurgence or not remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, you can cope with the lack of help through the suggestions here. Most importantly, don’t forget to put your well-being first, so you can continue to enjoy your job and inspire your students every day.
Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, and activism-related content. When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.