As a mental health provider, I have worked in the school system for over 23 years. I have had the unique experience of being surrounded by amazing educators everyday during my social work career. While I still may not know what reading program is best or how to add two numbers without “grouping” them, I do know the teachers I have worked with are professional, generous and compassionate people who have always given of themselves far beyond what any parent or administrators usually see.
Over my career, I have seen teachers bring clothing to students in their classes that needed it. I have watched teachers give their own lunch to feed a child who doesn’t have lunch or snacks. I have seen teachers send holiday gifts to families that would not have them otherwise. I have seen teachers give countless hours of their own time before school, after school, evenings, weekends and during vacations to support students and their families. I have seen how a teacher’s heartfelt hug or smile can offer more to a child (or their parent) than any lesson plan could. I have seen teachers have some of the most difficult conversations with parents over concern for their students they are so scared for. I have also witnessed teachers' rightful frustrations and anger when their students are not cared for properly by parents or a broken social welfare system. I have seen them change the trajectory of a child’s day, week, year and life. I have also seen them teach some pretty impressive and creative lessons. I have always admired the teaching profession.
During the current health crisis with physical schools closed, I have seen these amazing educators take their professionalism, compassion and passion for teaching to a whole new level. These endless givers have recreated themselves and their profession in order to address this unprecedented health crisis. They have gone from trying to create creative ways to keep kids attention in class to being even more creative with keeping them engaged online. Without notice nor any real formal training, they have had to reestablish their classrooms from one with 4 walls to one without any walls at all. They have doubled their efforts to help empower parents to become educators themselves and connect with their children. They have suddenly become experts in Google classroom, zoom and a million other online learning platforms overnight (while I’m still figuring out what a Google Classroom is). They have transformed their dining rooms into online classrooms with live videos while they are also caring for their own families. They seem to know exactly what is going on in each family during this pandemic despite not seeing them face to face over the last 3 weeks. They are coordinating parades to see their students, getting them computers, access to wifi and still finding ways to feed and clothe them. They have done all of this without a national or state mandate or a standardized test to tell them what they “should” be doing. If I was impressed by teachers before, I am simply in awe of all they do now.
I wanted to take a moment to reach out to you and extend my gratitude for all you are doing for our students and their families. We are being faced with a health crisis that our community has never faced before, and you have all stepped up to the challenge with compassion, professionalism and with the welfare of our students and their families in mind.
As you continue to face this challenge, I can only imagine the difficult circumstances you are facing on a daily basis trying to manage your own stress while almost helplessly watching the community you love struggle. As educators, many of you are facing the potential threat of illness, long draining hours and a regular communication with community members who may be suffering with the virus. Prolonged exposure to this type of constant stress can have a serious impact on our mental health including anxiety, depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, relationship issues and can even negatively affect our own immune systems.
During this time, while you are so busy caring for others, it is important that you are also caring for yourselves. Here are a few simple tips to practice self care during this time:
CONNECT - As educators and social creatures, we are meant to connect and support each other. As educators we do this in our classrooms, faculty rooms and various school functions. As we are physically home with our own families at this time, let's make a conscious decision to stay emotionally connected to our coworkers that we sometimes spend more time with than our own families. Maybe schedule a “Zoom lunch” or even a “Zoom social hour” (don't tell the kids). Staying connected with our peers, coworkers and close friends can serve as one of the most natural stress relievers. We are all in this together. Connecting with our peer educators who are faced with similar fears of curriculum, administrative pressure and technology challenges can give us a real sense of community that we all could benefit from right now.
MOVE - This new confinement we are all experiencing can be a physical shock to our systems. We are usually used to drifting between classroom and “popping” in on our peers to ask a quick question. Make sure to stay moving. Physical exercise, especially outdoors, can do wonders to decrease stress, fight anxiety and help to feel positive and creative for our students and our families. Walking, biking or finding any of the numerous online exercise programs can be a great way to relieve stress, improve immunity and help build emotional resilience during this time.
NURTURE - As caregivers, educators are excellent nurturers to their students and families they work with. Making a deliberate effort to nurture ourselves is not always as easy for many who are so commonly available for others. Everyone has their own way to “recharge their battery”. Some like alone time, some need time with family, some find reading a great escape while others escape through Netflix (or even the Tiger King?) or outdoor projects. Some have hobbies or other interests that they have long neglected. This current crisis is the perfect time to re-engage with the things that bring you peace, calmness and some sense of stability. Only you know what you need.
Respectfully submitted by Gordon Gooding, LCSW
Experiencing any mental health issues or concerns as a result of this Pandemic is not something you need to face alone. This is an unprecedented time and we all need to support each other. Our clinicians are here to support you during this difficult time so you can be there for others. Please feel free to contact us directly at 631.351.2940 or email us at email@example.com to make an appointment or even to just ask a question.