As a mental health professional, I've seen firsthand the ripple effects of the pandemic on various professions, and educators stand out as a group that's been deeply impacted. The pressures of adjusting to new teaching methods, managing personal and professional anxieties, and the weight of supporting students through unprecedented challenges have been immense. Let's explore why many teachers feel especially tired and burned out post-pandemic and delve into some strategies to cope.
Understanding Post-Pandemic Burnout in Educators:
Constant Adapting : Almost overnight, teachers had to switch to virtual teaching, reconfigure lesson plans, and use unfamiliar platforms. Even as things started to return to "normal," the balance between virtual and in-person teaching created a new set of challenges. These demands challenged your brains more than expected and, under your own personal stress levels, created a trauma unlike others. The combined personal experience of the pandemic, the professional expectations of becoming everything for everyone, and then being critically judged by parents and administration for the inevitable mistakes that were going to happen without compassion or empathy for your experience.
Emotional Labor: Teachers are not just educators. They're mentors, counselors, and caregivers. Watching students struggle with the emotional and academic consequences of the pandemic and trying to support them has added layers of emotional labor that have continued for years post the pandemic. The administration said, “back to expectations of rigor in learning.” It creates a sense of hopelessness for many, anger for others, and the desire or action to give up for several.
Loss of Work-Life Boundary: Many educators found it challenging to switch off with the merging of personal and professional spaces. The boundaries between "work time" and "personal time" became blurred, and they continue to be strained. You cannot complete your work tasks in the time allotted under the contract. This blurring of roles became extensive and intrusive to your daily lives. Summer vacation wasn’t enough recovery time this year. You needed more, a lot more.
High Expectations: The pressure to ensure students don't "fall behind" and to compensate for the disrupted academic years has placed an undue burden on many educators. Many school districts are not functioning from a trauma-informed lens, contributing to unreasonable expectations for you and your students. (Your students are about 1.5 years behind in social development, so if they are acting a few years younger, that is REAL. It is an effect of trauma on developing brains.)
Personal Stress and Grief: Like everyone else, teachers also dealt with personal stresses, fears, and losses due to the pandemic. Balancing personal emotions with professional responsibilities is draining and traumatic. This is the weight you feel both physically and psychologically each day. It is also why the toxic positivity present in many schools is damaging to everyone’s psyche because it gaslights your past and present experiences.
Navigating Burnout and Seeking Balance:
Self-awareness: Recognize the signs of burnout. These can range from chronic fatigue and irritability to feelings of detachment and decreased job satisfaction. Self-awareness, not “self-care,” is where you can help yourself. Acknowledge it, talk about it, vent it, and move it out of your body. By speaking it out loud, you begin to take some weight off because you aren’t alone; the system has led you to FEEL you are the only one. You are not alone in how you feel right now.
Create Boundaries: Set strict start and end times for your workday; there is no guilt in working your contract. Be honest with those around you, including your students. If it is a hard day, say it is a hard day (kids already know they see your face, but lying to them only hurts the relationship you are trying to build with them). Say no, say no often. Please don’t fall into the trap of doing more; it will not make things easier; educators are often martyrs for their students and school. Say no; someone else will do it. It doesn’t have to be you(every time).
Seek Support: Don't shy away from seeking professional help. Therapy can provide coping tools and strategies for stress, anxiety, and burnout. Even a few sessions can make a difference. Mental Health is physical health; we all know you don’t do great at taking care of yourself first. Make an appointment. You can often use Telehealth as an option before or after school from your classroom(doors locked, of course!)
Incorporate Mindfulness and Breathing Techniques: Simple breathing exercises or a few minutes of meditation can help reset your mind during a hectic day. These can be practiced alone or even integrated into the classroom as a calming exercise for you and your students. It can seem cheesy, yet all the research shows that mindfulness and gratitude develop resiliency to stress. No better way to force yourself to do it than to have your students do it with you. Make it happen.
Prioritize YOU: Engage in activities that rejuvenate you. This could be reading, gardening, hiking, or simply going to bed early. Schedule “you” time like you'd schedule a meeting. You always override your needs, so you aren’t putting the “oxygen mask” on yourselves first. When you do this, you have nothing left for your students, partners, children, etc. You can feel like you do right now, done. (If you have managed to do this, DO MORE!)
Connect with Peers: Sharing feelings and experiences with colleagues can be therapeutic. They likely face similar challenges, and group discussions or support groups can provide comfort and solutions. Don’t be afraid to try a group; groups are often more affordable and have long-lasting impacts on mental health, equivalent to individual counseling.
Limit Exposure: While staying informed is essential, constant exposure to distressing news is overwhelming. Set specific times to check news or social media and stick to reliable sources. If it only irritates you to hear the news or read about events, don’t. Not right now; it isn’t worth the physical and psychological toll it is taking on your health.
Educators, the challenges you've faced during and after the pandemic are monumental. Recognizing the impact on your well-being is the first step.
Implementing self-awareness, seeking support, and establishing boundaries can pave the way to finding balance and reigniting the passion that drew you to teaching.
Remember, it's not just about being the best educator you can be but also ensuring you're the best version of yourself, both in and out of the classroom.
You are worthy of respect and self-compassion.
Educators, if you desire services or to be involved in a group, send us an email.
We would love to support you and your colleagues.