Teachers - how to stay sane during a global pandemic

There is some reassurance to be found in the fact that we are all in the same boat. Be patient with yourself – what we are experiencing is akin to grief. Do what you need to.

Teacher and author Dr Emma Kell offers advice on how to cope during the current pandemic.

We are experiencing a worldwide pandemic that will go down in history. Normality as we know it has ceased to function. All of the rules and routines have changed.

If you’re anything like me, you’re still waiting for someone to wake you up so that you can describe your bizarre nightmare.

I’ve been chatting remotely to thousands of teachers and wanted to share some of their wisdom to help you stay safe and stay relatively sane during these crazy times.

Teacher and author Dr Emma Kell has 21 years' experience as a mainstream teacher, with extensive experience of working with children with a range of needs

Patience and time

Knowing you can no longer do the job in the way you used to do it takes an awful lot of digesting. Whilst many teachers have frustrations at work, the vast majority love being around young people and are motivated to their very core by the desire to make a positive difference.

Feelings of uselessness, guilt and acute anxiety abound. Know this: that by following the medical advice, you are doing everything you possibly can.

There is some reassurance to be found in the fact that we are all in the same boat. Be patient with yourself – what we are experiencing is akin to grief. Do what you need to. Now is not the time for going above and beyond with work. Rest when you feel you need to. Take it an hour at a time.

A truism for our new world is that this is indeed a marathon and not a sprint.

What matters?

It’s really interesting to note that so many of the things which took up time and energy in schools carry little to no importance now: inspections, exams, data, performance appraisal; fashion, hair dye, Brexit…

However, the values that lie at the heart of teacher wellbeing and effectiveness are more important than ever: trust, compassion and humanity.

The various conflicts which used to dominate timelines online have all but disappeared. We are quite literally all in this together and kindness to ourselves and one another have never been so crucial.

Home-working: practicalities

I write having made loads of mistakes already! The colour-coded intricate family home-working schedule is laughably impractical and got binned mid-morning on Monday.

The reality is that you’re highly unlikely to be as productive as you were when you were in school. We associate different spaces with different activities and for many of us, home is associated with domestic chores, family and relaxation.

Add to this the fact that an inability to concentrate is all part of the process of adjustment and you may be feeling frustrated and inadequate.

It’s not just you: trust me. Renegotiate your expectations of yourselves and those around you. Cut tasks down into bite-sized chunks – and if you achieve two or three small things in a day, you’re doing well!

Teachers – you are more important and more valued than ever

By the end of day 1 of ‘lockdown’ there were parents across the country expressing their admiration for teachers. One said she was tempted to leave a bottle of wine outside her daughter’s teacher’s house.

There is a growing and genuine appreciation out there for what school staff do, every single day, in ordinary times. Not just this, but there is a recognition that the staff still on the frontline working with the children of key workers are doing so without hesitation or concern for their own safety.

It seems that the role of teachers is rapidly evolving from one linked to progress and data to one of caregiver, nurturer and, in some cases, life-line (a teacher I know did a whole supermarket shop for a vulnerable family that ‘didn’t even have tea bags’ yesterday, and told them it was all ‘just part of the service’).

For those who are setting work from home, it’s you the students miss.

No number of intricately differentiated online tasks will count for as much as a personalised message from you – a one-line email along the lines of the ongoing Arsenal vs Spurs banter my daughter and her teacher are engaged in, or a short video of you offering praise and reassurance would be hugely appreciated!

This too shall pass, and as the birds have a very loud party outside and the stars are more visible than ever at night, I have a feeling we may just make it through as a profession stronger than ever.

What to do if you need support

If you're a teacher who is stressed or worried about anything you can call
Education Support's free and confidential 24/7 emotional support helpline on 08000 562 561.

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