Dealing with Teacher Anxiety during a pandemic school year

Posted on Aug 19, 2020 by Lizz Ryals

Stephanie Baker from Life In Abundance Christian Counseling Center checked in with HIS Morning Crew with Rob and Lizz to talk about some of the issues our teachers/educators are going through this year. 

1) The relationship between teachers and parents has taken a negative turn on social media over the last couple of months. It's gone from an admiration and appreciation of teachers to some contentious exchanges between the two sects as we've gotten closer to the school start.   It's important to remember that many teachers are also parents and understand the pressures of parenting during the new landscape of this school year.  This will be different than the emergency distance learning that was practiced in the spring. Working together is critical.


2) Facing the logistical challenges in the classroom. Eg, keeping up with the extra requirements of disinfecting the rooms between use and in some cases between multiple classes during the day. Not being able to offer as much hands on learning as previously done in some classes. Not being able to be heard clearly by the students because the teacher is wearing a mask. Not being able to understand the students because they are wearing masks.  Will there be enough PPE for everyone? What happens if I get exposed as a teacher? Will there be a substitute available? What does that look like? If I've been exposed, how will I be notified?  WILL I be notified? What happens when a student tests positive? What about family members?
3) How will my students be impacted?  Are they going to be labeled as having behavior problems because their very nature doesn't allow for social distancing? How will the younger ones possibly understand that they will have to follow more rules?  Because the older ones feel invincible, will they get detention for just being teens?
Even when kids have both the technology and the support they need for online/distance learning, they need peer interaction and face-to-face instruction to learn all the skills they need. That's a critical piece that will be absent or greatly reduced this year. 
4) How do I return to a school district when I question its  commitment to protecting my individual safety as a teacher ? Not all school districts are forthcoming with information. Will they be forthcoming when it comes to teacher exposure? With the return of the school staff (bus drivers to teachers, etc) all are expected to assume the responsibility of safeguarding their own health while simultaneously protecting the safety and well-being of America's children.  Many teachers feel that few other professions outside of first responders and healthcare workers will have such a high level of risk and responsibility. It's overwhelming to learn new safety protocols and make sure the students are compliant while trying to teach lesson plans and stay on track.


 5) Caregiver burnout exists. It's real for teachers too. It's defined as happening when 'the burden of taking care of others results in physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.' Teachers can be especially susceptible. 
Good teaching is based on loving and connecting with children/students. Another point to consider is that many teachers are women and many women shoulder the bulk of childcare and household responsibilities in most families. Juggling the balance between  personal family and students while working remotely as well is challenging. Teacher's own children may feel anxious and confused by all the changes in their lives and need more love and attention than usual. Sadly, teachers may find that they have less time and energy left over for their own kids.  It's important for teachers to be seen not as those who refuse to let any child fall behind, but as humans who have limited emotional reserves. 
There are some things to consider in all of these concerns:
1) Realize that there is much uncertainty right now for everyone.You are not alone. For many of us this is an exercise in learning to tolerate discomfort. There is benefit in  being able to tolerate discomfort.  When we learn to sit with what we don’t like, we can actually build emotional muscle and handle the next challenge with greater ease. Most of us don't want to experience our own discomfort on any level which makes us less tolerant of the discomfort of others. Perhaps by becoming more tolerant of our own discomfort we will can become more compassionate with others and feel less of a need to try to control things around us. When we can tolerate our own discomfort, it builds resilience over time.

2) As much as we want to have control, we can only control ourselves. Realize that you are able to control two important things - your attitude and your responses. A friend of mine teaches his clients to ask themselves the following questions when they get frustrated: is this an emergency or is this an inconvenience. The practice of asking that question helps us reframe things and adjust our responses. 

3) Remember that there are two major areas to consider regarding control - our circle of influence and our circle of concern. I may have things that concern me, but have no influence over any of those things to change or remove them. Conversely, I may have influence over things that don't concern me. Those two circles, however, will intersect at one point to create a third circle - those things that both concern me and over which I have influence.  That's where my efforts are more effectively channeled. Ask yourself when you are feeling anxiety, what specifically are the things in this situation oever which I have influence. Which of these things that concern me do I have the ability to change? (Eg, you can't control what a district mandates or how a frustrated parent acts.)

4) Self-Care is a must. If you're experiencing caregiver burnout or fatigue, it's time to seek some help. Caregiver burnout can show up more along the lines of sweeping changes in how the person sees the world or others.Therapy can help the client examine and reframe their views in a healthy and balanced way, and provide a structured plan for continued healing. 

5) Remember that we can only do the 'best that we can with what we have and what we know at the time.'  We will make mistakes. Both parents and teachers as well as children. Kindness and compassion goes a long way.


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