Article

December 30th, 2020

Educator Voice: How to help educators manage stress during the pandemic

CoronavirusEducationUncategorized
Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images.

 

By Dr. Tina Boogren, author and associate for Solution Tree and Marzano Resources, and former teacher, Denver, Colorado

Educators whom I work with often point out the sting of being villainized now after being regarded as heroes last spring.

This is the first year where I feel like new teachers are faring better than veterans. But new or veteran, when I ask teachers what phase they’re currently in, they say overwhelmingly “survival” phase. This is across the board — including all states, all positions, no matter how many years of experience — they’ve been in survival mode since March. That’s a long time to be in such a difficult place.

This is the first year where I feel like new teachers are faring better than veterans.

Our veteran teachers seem to be negatively impacted the most. This makes sense when you consider the fact that our expert/most experienced educators spent years perfecting their craft when they got the rug pulled out from underneath them last March; it makes them feel like first-year teachers again.

“I feel like a brand new teacher,” says Leyna Hanan, veteran educator in New York City during a PBS NewsHour EXTRA Zoom call.

No one likes to feel incompetent; especially those who have worked so hard to become experts. And for many folks, just when they start to get the hang of things, everything changes again. For example, teachers move from distance learning to hybrid and then back to distance, with very little prep time or support. Combine these stressors with taking care of their own families, fear of the virus, etc., and you have a recipe for burnout for sure.

When we don’t have a sense of order, predictability or fairness, we don’t feel safe and it’s safe to say that many educators feel like they have indeed lost those things this year, which adds to the fear of the virus itself.

We’ve needed to take better care of the adults in the buildings for a long time now, and with the challenges of this year, it’s all coming to a head.

Safety is the second level of Maslow’s hierarchy and when we don’t have it, we can’t pay attention; this is true for both adults and students. Fear then produces anxiety which is overwhelmingly the number one cited emotion among educators right now. And when we’re anxious, we’re not our best selves, and our students desperately need us to be our best selves — especially now.

“No one understands you like a fellow teacher,” said Kathryn Vaughn, elementary school art teacher in Tennessee, during a NewsHour EXTRA Zoom call. Kathryn called into while working at her third job, night manager at a car wash.

Giving our educators the tools to truly address their professional wellness needs is essential. Band-aid fixes are nice for a moment, but we also need to be addressing the underlying layers that are at play. Educators are clamoring for tools associated with self-care and professional wellness (I’ve never been busier as this is the work that I do).

We’ve needed to take better care of the adults in the buildings for a long time now, and with the challenges of this year, it’s all coming to a head. My work in this area allows educators to feel seen, valued, and hopeful — which in turn makes them better educators, partners and parents.

My sincere hope is that we don’t see the mass exodus that was originally predicted in the National Education Association (NEA) data. A clearer timeline of when we might get to the other side of this and the vision of a more normal school year next year can bring hope. And with hope, there is the possibility of more teachers staying in their positions.

Tina Boogren

Dr. Tina Boogren, author and associate for Solution Tree and Marzano Resources, Denver, Colorado. Tina is a former middle school classroom teacher, English department chair, teacher mentor, instructional coach, professional developer, athletic coach and building-level leader. Tina was a 2007 finalist for Colorado Teacher of the Year and received the Douglas County School District Outstanding Teacher Award eight years in a row, from 2002 to 2009.


If you would like to contribute to Educator Voice, NewsHour EXTRA’s blog on how current events affect life for educators or school personnel, please send your idea to Vic Pasquantonio at vpasquantonio@newshour.org.

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