Since lockdown began in March, the world of education has been turned on its head. Teachers have quickly learned, adapted and accepted constant changes within the profession without much say on the matter. While adjusting to distance learning was hard enough, we’ve had to also deal with politicians, the media and keyboard warriors bashing us for not doing our “duty” and how “morally indefensible” it is to keeps schools closed, ignoring any concerns we may have for our wellbeing during a pandemic.
One thing 2020 has taught me is to prioritise my wellbeing. Here are some wellbeing and self-care tips for returning to work in September.
Tip 1: Don’t be too hard on yourself
Even before the pandemic, we can be pretty critical of ourselves as teachers. We want to make sure we are doing the best for our students and can go above and beyond at the detriment of our health and wellbeing. Lockdown forced many of us to slow down, step back and prioritise- particularly our home life. Keep this in mind when returning to work. You may feel like you have to do 101 things to ensure your students get back on track, but it’s important to remember school life is going to be different for everyone. Don’t be too hard on yourself and think you need to return to working at 100mph for you to be an effective teacher. Don’t think you have to cram in lots of work straight away and go back to working ridiculously long hours to meet the expectations of others or the expectations you once set yourself. Ease yourself into school life. Do what you can and try not to be too hard on yourself if you can’t. Remember you are living and working during a pandemic. Just getting through the day is an achievement in itself.
Tip 2: Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries is important but something we find difficult. When we don’t establish boundaries, it can affect our physical, emotional and mental health. I used to find it hard to set boundaries at school and my biggest challenge was saying no. I would be overwhelmed by my workload, but I would constantly say yes to other tasks because I wanted to be seen as a hard worker and a team player. I thought I could do everything and, if I’m honest, a bit of a people pleaser. Of course, this led to burning out and eventually anxiety attacks and needing time off work. A colleague once said, “If you die, all you’ll get is a letter home to parents and an assembly”. It was brutally honest but true. I would class myself as a strong person, but to see the negative effects not setting boundaries had to my physical and mental wellbeing, my personal relationships and love for the job left me feeling weak. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are disposable as teachers. We are not, however, disposable to our family and friends. We should feel confident and comfortable setting boundaries at work: say no to something you don’t want to do or can’t do; don’t feel completely responsible for every aspect of your students’ lives (which we often do), and protect your wellbeing. During this pandemic, we are setting boundaries in regards to social distancing, so we should be able to set boundaries in our professional and personal life, too.
Tip 3: React, relate, release
There are a lot of things we are unable to control at the moment. We have little to no control over the pandemic, returning to school, and other factors that may have been impacted by Coronavirus. There’s an episode from a show called A Different World involving one of the characters visiting a therapist to help her deal with her stress and anxiety. The therapist tells her that “the only thing you can control is how you feel. Not how you feel, but how you deal with what you feel that is real. Relax, relate and release into reality”. Those three words have become my mantra this year.
Try to relax when you leave school. After spending six months teaching through distance learning, it’s been hard to disconnect work and home life. Try to create that separation and leave work at work. Make home your safe space again.
Remember you are not alone in your feelings and there are plenty of other teachers that can relate to how you’re feeling. Don’t try to bury or shut off your emotions and think you just need to get on with it. Communicate how you feel and relate to those around you. A problem shared is a problem halved.
You can also relate to others at school by taking action for change. Many of us have felt sad, uncomfortable or angry at the race and class injustice we have seen the last few months. Relate to staff and students by having open and honest conversations and seeing what you can do together to create change within your school.
The last thing is to release what you are feeling. Try not to carry bad vibes or stress into the next day because it will accumulate and the negative effects with catch up with you. If you’re having a rough day, reflect on why you are feeling this way and what you can do to change it, deal with it or react differently towards it. Other ways to release is through exercise. I’m no gym buff but going for nature walks usually gets me out of my negative mood.
Good luck in September. I hope you have a happy and safe return to school.