How are you feeling? Taking care of yourself while teaching in lockdown

If you had said a year ago that working from home was possible for a teacher, the idea would have been unthinkable. We can’t teach from home! We need to be with our pupils – seeing what they’re doing, motivating them, watching out for their behaviour and making sure they’re focused. How would we mark work? How would we help them when they got stuck?

Well here we are! Remote teaching day in and day out – the job has changed beyond belief. Whether we’ve been teaching remotely since March 2020 or just started using Googlemeet or Teams in January; getting used to not being in the classroom has been a necessity, and one that has had to take place at breakneck speed. From isolating year groups, to teaching in safety boxes and  avoiding being within 2m of a pupil; this year has been tougher than it would have been possible to conceive at this point in 2020.

So, how are you?

When was the last time someone you work with asked you that and meant it (in more than a small-talk kind of way)? When was the last time you asked a colleague that? No one has had time or the physical space to be able to have that kind of supportive conversation one on one, right? But I can guess the answer: tired, mentally and physically exhausted, frazzled, worn out and worn down, maybe even a bit lost?

In and amongst planning for and delivering live lessons; the soul destroying silence that follows a question in a live lesson that no one will answer and the moments you sit down to mark and realise only 6 out of 30 students have bothered to do the work, you might have taken a moment to stop and reflect on how out of your comfort zone you are. You might have felt like a failure because you just know the students aren’t engaging or getting it and there’s so very little you can do about it. You might have acknowledged the maddening frustration of a slow internet connection or the concern you have that you’ve not heard from that student in Year 9 for six whole weeks. You might flick on the news and hear yet another headline about giving up summer to catch up students who have fallen behind, or the huge educational deficit the pandemic has caused whilst logging back on for your fifth live lesson of the day. There are many, many reasons that teaching in a pandemic is tough.

So what can we do to protect and look after ourselves? Self-care can sound self indulgent or even a bit new age – but it ultimately means taking time for yourself and prioritising your own needs above others. Finding the time to put yourself first or manage your workload without feeling guilt. Here are some suggestions for what this could look like in practice:

Stick to a timetable

In some ways it’s a luxury not to be ruled by the school bell, but in others it can mean days have no end. So whether your school timetable has changed or you’re working to the normal school day make sure you allot yourself time for a break and lunch time and take them – away from your computer. Build in time to check and respond to emails and only look at emails during this time. Anyone can wait 24 hours for an email response.

Make the most of the technology

Check you’re using the technology to your advantage, for example schedule work and emails in advance and use rubrics to mark work to help reduce time spent working

Connect with your colleagues around your shared experience

Use the first 5 minutes of your department meeting to share the best and worst part of the week. Everyone is struggling and learning at the same time – take a moment to share in that and remember that you’re not alone.

Connect with colleagues or friends

Through a social activity, for example a book club, or a walking competition (we’ve got an inter dept walking competition running through strava thanks to our PE team at the moment) or even through a random act of kindness. We’ve been sending out Wispa bars to colleagues sporadically to let them know we’re thinking of them or to thank them for something specific – it feels lovely to do and has really brightened their day, but equally taking five minutes out to write a card to a (non-work related) friend can just help make you feel that little bit more human.

Create an end of the day signal

Not physically leaving the school building can make it difficult to feel like the working day is over so find a new signal to yourself that signifies that it is time to switch off. This could be brewing a cup of tea, lighting a candle, going for a walk round the block or even just walking into another room. Decide once you do that action you are no longer in ‘work’ mode and mentally switch off until the next day.

Change the voice inside your head

It doesn’t seem to matter how hard I work when I’m working from home I feel like I’m lacking. I know my lessons aren’t as good as they could be in person so I always feel like there’s something missing or not good enough. We’ve been in this pandemic for a year and it is often referred to as the ‘new normal’ but this is not normal but it will be normal again at some point. For now: ‘my best is enough, I am important and everything will be ok’. And repeat. 

How much have you learnt in such a short space of time? Think back – if someone had told you to deliver a live lesson using your platform of choice with polls, questioning and live marking a year ago would you have known how? Look at us now. We’re doing it! And that IS enough.

Sarah Eggleton is Assistant Headteacher and Head of English at Stretford High School.