When it comes to teaching during COVID-19, teachers’ stress is going through the roof. While stress is nothing new to teachers, compared to what many are currently experiencing, “normal” stress seems like a picnic. The Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the transition to remote learning, and in its wake, teachers across the country are struggling with new and formidable challenges. And the stress is exhausting some of them.
The Challenging Disconnect
While most teachers have become comfortable with technology-based instruction, as it is generally as effective as face to face, they are unable to pick up some of the emotional cues that often only be gleaned from seeing their students in person.
And other teachers are haunted by the students who aren’t signing up anymore for virtual sessions. Not so long ago, before the days of teaching during COVID-19, teachers wouldn’t hesitate to call the parents if a child missed class. But now, with parents losing jobs, or maybe caring for ill relatives, teachers wonder if a call is too intrusive.
Getting up to Speed isn’t Happening Fast Enough
Experts in online learning claim that it’s impossible to transition to full-scale online-learning instantly. As one put it, “There is a reason districts and schools take one to two years planning time.” “You can’t go from zero to 60 in 24 hours if you don’t have the processes and structures in place.”
Michael Barbour, who focuses on virtual learning as an associate professor of education at Touro University California, said, “research shows that preparing lessons for remote learning can be more time-consuming than for brick-and-mortar settings. Plans for live—or synchronous—sessions can take up to three times as long, and plans for asynchronous lessons can take as much as five to eight times longer.”
The exhaustion that so many teachers are feeling emerges from a whole matrix of dynamics. Educators are struggling with unfamiliar technologies. They are required to either retrofit or reinvent their lessons. Even those tasks that are familiar must be done differently, such as grading homework. And to top it off, they are swamped with texts, calls, and emails from principals, parents, and students.
After their official teacher’s duties, they must find the time and muster the strength to “be there” for students and their families, and offer much needed emotional support. And then many are juggling the needs of their children who themselves are home from school or loved ones who may be ill or require additional care.
As if the stress and exhaustion weren’t enough, many of the teachers are grieving as well. Mental Health experts are quick to point out that teachers and their loved ones shouldn’t make light of the emotional toll that home teaching is extracting from them.
“Being asked to suddenly do something you’re not skilled in, coping with the worry about coronavirus in their own lives, feeling they’re not doing enough for kids and parents, plus their fears about how their students and families could be suffering mentally and financially then, all of that piles up into tremendous stress,” said Kathleen Minke, Executive Director of the National Association of School Psychologists.
And for many teachers, that grief is unacknowledged, as exhaustion and stress take a higher profile, experts said. This lack of acknowledging grief produces something called “disenfranchised grief.” Such grief is even more difficult to deal with since it is unacknowledged and unaccepted, according to Kenneth Doka, a psychologist who specializes in grief.
“It could be hard for teachers to feel they can complain about the loss of not seeing their students, when they know people out there are dying,” Doka said. “But that lack of recognition leads to [a] more complicated [form of] grief.”
The Invisible Toll
The combination of stress and grief can produce brain changes that make the already-stressful job of teaching during COVID-19 even tougher, said Patricia A. Jennings, a professor of education at the University of Virginia and an expert in teacher stress. “The sudden shift to the new demands of home teaching, laced with fears about coronavirus, blend into a kind of trauma that can shift the brain from higher-order thinking skills into survival mode.”
“We might shut down a bit, space out, dissociate, or check out because we can’t cope very well,” Jennings said. “We might also get into a kind of hypervigilance, where we’re constantly checking emails or news developments, and it’s hard to concentrate.
It is sincerely hoped that as teachers and those who support them become more aware of these challenges, coping strategies will be crafted to enable teachers to not only survive through COVID-19 but thrive on a personal level, which is to everyone’s great benefit.
Help Your Students Cope with the Crisis
The response to the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented. Because of our unique role in children’s K-12 education including online speech therapy, we feel a responsibility to do what we can to assist schools, therapists, and students with this transition to online learning and seclusion. To ensure that our students remain engaged and supported, our therapists are providing complimentary “Support Sessions” to the country’s youth. We are also assisting schools by training their therapists for remote therapy. Click here to learn more.
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