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With the New Year on our doorstep, we look at all educators have been through and see how much attention and work needs to be focused on educators’ mental health and well-being. This will not happen with the flip of a switch. In fact, this will undoubtedly require a process of unlearning old habits and expectations for both administrators and teachers alike. Normalizing making choices that benefit your mental health, strengthening your emotional awareness, and discovering effective methods to reduce high levels of stress are all important steps in the right direction. We are leaving 2020 behind and looking toward a new year, with a new resolution for every educator…
Let’s check in with one another. 2020 is almost over, and it’s okay to not be okay. Even on the best of days, the stress brought on by the pandemic can feel practically inescapable: juggling working from home, hybrid teaching without adequate support, concerns for your own safety, your family’s safety, the safety of your students, trying to engage those students who are equally preoccupied...the list goes on and on. While trying to stay afloat, odds are your own mental health and well-being has likely been put on the back burner.
Although compounded by the unprecedented circumstances of this year, stress is nothing new for educators. High levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout within teaching communities have been present long before the pandemic. According to a 2017 study conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, educators and school staff find their work “often” or “always” stressful 61% of the time. Managing this amount of stress is unsustainable, and yet this statistic is unsurprising. There is an ingrained cultural expectation around teachers working unpaid overtime, funding school supplies out of their own pockets, regularly going above and beyond their training to address the needs of others, and especially for early childhood teachers, being seen as a “babysitter” rather than a professional educator. Teaching is an incredibly rewarding career, but between these expectations, profession-wide burnout, and the everyday stressors this year continues to impose, it’s no wonder so many teachers have considered leaving this profession all together. In order to remedy this reality, there needs to be a conscious, collective effort to address and provide support for the mental health and well-being of educators.
A silver lining for everyone around this dark year may be the heightened interest and demand for self-care advice and tips; short-term solutions for the day-to-day stress that can leave us all feeling drained. But what about when “day-to-day” turns into persistent, unmitigated “toxic” stress? When well-meaning advice about going for a walk or taking deep breaths doesn’t feel like enough? Self-care is always important, especially in tandem with the long-term solution for managing great levels of stress and the intense emotions it evokes: emotional intelligence.
There is incredible momentum building around the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) for children, both at home and at school. The successful implementation of social-emotional learning for children cannot happen without including and supporting the educators of those children in SEL approaches. Dr. Donna Housman and her begin to ECSEL program recognize the significance of emotional intelligence support for educators. Begin to ECSEL is built upon the evidence-based theory that teaching educators to understand and become aware of their own emotions in turn helps children to do the same. A key component of the program is addressing educator’s own emotionality, including their stress and anxiety. When we support educators, we are truly supporting the entire education system.
There is so much work to be done when it comes to prioritizing educators’ mental health and well-being. This will undoubtedly require a great deal of unlearning for administrators, teachers, and anyone else who is used to working through sickness, pain, and unmitigated stress. Normalizing making choices that benefit your mental health, strengthening your emotional awareness, and discovering effective methods to reduce high levels of stress are important steps in the right direction for all of us.
A wish for my fellow educators is for you to first remember that it is okay to not be okay, while also acknowledging that there is a way forward. The more support teachers have around emotional awareness and caring for themselves, the better they will be able to do what they love: teach. On that note, teachers: we hear you, we support you, we appreciate you, we need you, and you matter.
With the utmost gratitude for all that you do,
Lauren, a fellow educator