Today was hard. Hardest day so far. This virtual teaching is so hard. You feel like you’re failing at your job because nothing is easy or smooth, and nothing works like it’s supposed to work. And you feel like you’re failing your family because of the non-stop working and troubleshooting.”

– Melissa B., a third grade teacher in Philadelphia, PA

And you thought you were having a bad day?

When we think about professions that are either underpaid or underappreciated, we think of front-line responders, police officers, firefighters, and… teachers. While many of us are continually adjusting and adapting to how COVID-19 has affected our personal and professional lives, it’s our already stressed-out teachers who are especially challenged right now.

Already Stressed Beyond Belief

Before the mad scramble for face masks, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer to deal with the sudden whirlwind of COVID-19, teachers were already scrambling to meet the unique demands and stressors of their profession. And that’s supported by research: an analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research found teachers were more likely to suffer job-related stress than other professionals.

A couple key takeaways from the study:

  • One in five teachers felt tense about their job all or most of the time, compared with one in eight workers in similar professions
  • 41% of teachers are dissatisfied with their amount of leisure time, compared to 32% of similar professions

In another study released by the Journal of School Psychology shortly before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Missouri researchers found 94% of middle school teachers experience high stress levels. The study also found teachers are not receiving the necessary coping skills to meet the job demands.

Teaching During COVID-19

While parents were fretting prior to the start of the school year—whether their children were physically going into school or learning from home—due to all the unknowns, teachers were even more anxious. One Seattle-based teacher reported having a panic attack four days into the school year.

Here are added stressors teachers are facing during the pandemic:

  • Adapting to new or unfamiliar technology
  • Managing a flood of emails, texts, and phone calls from students and parents
  • Missing face-to-face time with students
  • Meeting both the academic and emotional needs of students, often referred to as the “cost of caring”
  • Juggling the needs of both their students and their own family members
  • Feeling exhausted from the emotional toll of virtual teaching

As we can see from the examples discussed so far, teachers already faced many stressors prior to the pandemic. Now, with the added stressors of teaching in a constantly shifting physical and virtual environment, teachers need to find ways to cope with the changing educational landscape so they can focus on their passion: educating our future.

Extracurricular Activities for Stress Management

Let’s explore some ways teachers can manage their daily stressors so they can focus on what they do best—teach.

1. Instill Structure and Routine

The structure of the school day, with the familiar school bells signaling the end of one thing and the beginning of another, are not reliable these days. One way that teachers can add structure to their day is by harnessing the power of electronic calendars to help keep classes, student meetings, lunch breaks, and email management all blocked out with specific times.

2. Practice Self-Care

While we’re on the topic of scheduling, teachers should also schedule some “me time.” That could be simply stepping away from the computer (just not during an actual class!) and taking in some fresh air, playing with the family pet, listening to relaxing music, being mindful… anything that prioritizes their overall wellbeing and self-care.

3. Get in the Zone

This last recommendation ties everything together and allows teachers to reclaim their mental focus so they stay sharp, alert, and distraction free. Along with a more structured day and time built in for themselves, teachers can also:

  • Use mental willpower to resist temptations and distractions and stay focused. For example, if you’ve scheduled that all-important “me time,” stick to the reserved time for yourself and avoid grading quizzes or homework assignments.
  • Remove the things that will shift attention away from the task at hand. This includes the major culprits like TVs and phones.
  • Finally, remove clutter from the workspace and organize it in way that creates a comfortable, productive environment and one that’s inviting to work in.

We’ve learned that the pandemic has added stressors to an already-taxed teaching profession. We also know there are coping strategies and tactics — instilling structure and routine, practicing self-care, and staying mentally focused — that will help teachers provide the educational instruction and beneficial support students need now more than ever.