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If you or anyone you love is experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 please self-isolate and if your symptoms are causing you worry please call NHS 111.

As we reach half term, we wanted to take some time to hear from the teachers in our community about how they are coping with being essential workers during a pandemic.

Statistically, we know that 52% of teachers feel their mental health has suffered during the pandemic. The reasons for this decline are many; including workload, work-life balance, and lack of government guidelines cited as significant contributors, but whilst the reasons might differ from person to person, we know this to be completely true:

If you are a teacher and are struggling, you are not alone.

In order to write this piece, we spoke with lots of teachers about how they are coping with the pandemic. We also spoke with some former teachers about their suggestions for managing a teaching load under extreme conditions.

Not one of the people interviewed even suggested that it was surprising that teachers might be struggling at the moment. The truth is teachers are at the frontline of the new normal, trying to guide children back into a familiar setting whilst living in the stark reality that nothing is the same.

Whether managing their own grief or the grief of others, feeling isolated and frustrated by restrictions, or anxious about being made potentially more vulnerable to a life-changing virus, teachers have to find a way to keep educating those in their care. It is a big ask for anyone. Luckily, there is specialised support for teachers at this time. Education support has a great bank of resources about coronavirus support, and we hope that the top tips from our own teachers here will help, too.

Remember – you are not alone, and having to physically isolate doesn’t mean emotional isolation. If you are struggling, please consider calling the Education support hotline on 0800 562 561 which is free and available to all serving and retired teachers, lecturers and staff in all levels of education in the UK 24/7.

Top tip from Kensa, TEFL teacher “Take your own advice”

Teachers have been spending so much time reassuring their students in the course of the pandemic – telling them that it’s okay to feel confused or behind, that it’s normal to worry, that everything will turn out alright with their exams – we are constantly trying to comfort them that the future will be okay, no matter what happens this year. But it’s really important to take your own advice. It might feel like your own life has stalled, or that things you had planned for this year have disappeared entirely, but the future IS going to be okay, even if it is different from what you had planned. 

Stay strong – From Kensa

Top tip from Ruth, Secondary R.E. teacher “Prioritise your own wellbeing.”

I remind myself on a daily basis – YOU COME FIRST! It’s not selfish or egotistical, it’s self-preservation. Yes, the students are important, so are your peers and the work and the lessons and the marking and, and, and… But you won’t do any of those things justice unless you remind yourself that your health is the priority. So do what you need to do to stay physically and mentally healthy, make time for yourself.  I personally tackle this with a morning run, at least 20 minutes during the day of personal reading, and a daily affirmation in front of the mirror (you are strong, you are beautiful, you are loved, you are precious, you are growing, you are worthy of care…). These little things have a major impact on my overall mental wellbeing during the day, and make me better equipped to help my students. You can’t pour from an empty well! 

You are worthy! – From Ruth

Top tip from Miriam, Secondary R.E. teacher “Adjust your expectations”

This is a completely different time to be teaching in. Especially during full-on lockdown, I really had to adjust my expectations of what my students were capable of but also what I was capable of in terms of traditional classroom experiences. You can’t force a year 12 to do homework if they don’t want to, especially over Zoom! Even now we are back in the classroom, it is totally different. I can’t chase things up like I used to, and the bubble system means that discipline has to look different, too. I can’t realistically set detentions in the same way! So I have to adjust, and I also have to give myself a bit of compassion about it. Things are different – I’m not going to beat myself up about being unable to provide the exact same experience as pre-lockdown, because it’s not feasible. This has allowed me to let go of a lot of potential pressure and stress.

Don’t beat yourself up! – From Miriam.

Top tip from Ollie, Music teacher “Commit to your own structure.”

So much of my teaching has moved online and that has really changed the make up of my life and week compared to what it was like before lockdown when I might be travelling and working with students one on one. So I’ve lost a lot of that natural in-between movement that I had before – walking to the tram or around school – and I’ve felt the impact of that in a massive way. So it’s been so important for me to get outside, even if it’s just for ten minutes, even if it’s in the rain! Having a change of scene and getting some fresh air is so important. Even better is taking a 30 minute walk after work to clear your head. I also think it’s important to plan meals and force a structure upon your day. This has helped me stay on top of things and not get too overwhelmed. 

Take control! – From Ollie

Top tip from Jill, former teacher “Make time for something that totally takes your mind off teaching.”

Having to think about the pandemic is exhausting, and teaching in the pandemic is unfortunately absorbing a lot of the pandemic anxiety too as teachers have to think about social distancing all the time, and their own personal safety in an entirely new way. So it’s really important that there is something in your life that can be a complete distraction from your work. I recommend doing something totally absorbing that means you cannot concentrate on anything else – singing, painting, dancing. It takes you away from any troubles and into the moment, and that’s what you need when your job is as stressful as it is: some time in the moment. 

Distract yourself! – From Jill

Try and remember: “difficulties in the classroom in a pandemic are not a reflection of your skills.” 

Paul, an SEN teacher, told me that he has been struggling to think of himself as actually teaching when the reality feels more like managing an extreme situation. Throughout the pandemic, Paul has been an essential worker and has been going into school to work with children with additional needs. However, Paul had some insights as to what has helped his personal mental health. Paul said: 

“It has helped me to embrace a more holistic and patrol role in the classroom, to work with the students and how they are presenting on a daily basis without expectations. Also, I’ve had to acknowledge that difference in behaviour and disruptions in the classroom are more to do with COVID than with me. It’s been hard, but I’m learning that these difficulties are not my fault or a reflection of my teaching ability.” 

For Paul and many other teachers across the country, struggling with feelings of inadequacy in the face of a national crisis is something that they are managing on a daily basis. However, as the teachers’ testimonies above show us, they are still finding ways to remind themselves of their worth and manage their mental health in a pandemic. 

At the Lily Jo Project, we really value those in the teaching profession and want to support you in this difficult time. If you are looking for mental health materials to use in the classroom, we welcome you to explore our online learning platform. We have a range of free and paid resources that you may find helpful during this time!


About the Author: Emma Hinds

Emma is a writer living and working in Manchester. She is a mental health advocate and has been blogging about mental health for the last ten years. Emma has a history of eating disorders and is currently living with a diagnosis of OCD and chronic depression. She has been working specifically with young people struggling with their mental health for the last four years and is now supporting the Lily Jo Project’s On Track follow up schools programs. You can see Emma’s work and follow her mental health blog here. You can also follow her on socials here: twitter@EmmaLouisePH and instagram@elphreads.

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