By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder
Positive actions to survive teaching from home can improve your outlook during this pandemic. As the newness of the first few weeks of teaching from home sinks in, teachers across the country are realizing this is the new reality for now. The novelty is gone, and for some teachers it is causing a new type of anxiety and sadness.
It’s a fact, teachers miss their people. The colleagues and students are their extended family. They miss the routine and sense of purpose of getting and going to teach. However, there are some positive actions you can take to help you through these trying times.
Create a routine
At first the idea of sleeping in, staying up all hours, wearing pajamas all day, and snacking whenever you want sounds like a dream come true. It is when you know it’s for Spring Break or another short period of time.
However, with the uncertainty of how long the teach from home situation will last, the days can drag on and the lack of routine can be unsettling, lead to poorer health, and in some people anxiety or depression.
I have read several posts from parents who shared that their children have them do the activities at home they did in school such as attendance, the Pledge of Allegiance, restroom breaks, and recess. The stories are cute, but also point to the fact that routines make us feel safe and comforted, especially when situations change greatly. This is also true for adults.
A routine gives us a sense of order in our world. Setting a routine is a positive action you can take to survive teaching from home. When I retired in June and started working from home, I learned some helpful tips.
Develop a sleep routine
First, set a regular sleep habit by going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning. It’s okay if you go to bed and get up later than when you had to get up and ready for school, the key is to establish that routine and try to stick with it.
Eat at regular times
Second, set regular times to eat. If you don’t you will find yourself grazing every time you go through the kitchen. I moved my eating time to noon instead of my school lunch time of 10:45. Now that my husband is working from home, too, we are on his usual schedule of an 11 a.m. lunch and a 5:30 dinner because his hunger drives our schedule! I usually have a snack mid-afternoon. By keeping to this routine, I avoid binge eating and constant snacking.
Set work hours
Third, create a schedule for your online school work. Decide when you will work on lessons, correspond with students or parents, and check assignments. Once that allotted time is over, turn off the computer for the day. If you don’t, your day will never end, and you will find your stress increasing.
Focusing on your health is a positive action to survive teaching from home
Take advantage of any sunny day to soak up some Vitamin D. This “sunshine vitamin” provides health benefits to boost your immunity, gives you stronger bones, and helps reduce depression. After all the gray, rainy days we’ve had for months, sunshine just boosts your spirits. So set a time each day to breathe some fresh air and enjoy the sunshine.
Get some exercise
I don’t enjoy exercise, but exercise can be as simple as taking a walk around your yard. I am blessed to live in a rural area and can walk outside without seeing another soul. If you aren’t as fortunate, just remember to social distance. Working in your yard, pulling weeds, picking up sticks, or working on your landscaping are useful ways to get exercise. Because exercise improves health, enhances your mood, promotes better sleep and also boosts your energy, get some exercise everyday.
Staying home for some reason makes us want to eat more. Whether it is anxiety, boredom, or just the fact that we have more time, we want to bake, cook, and eat. However, also make sure that you are eating healthy because it affects both your mental and physical health. Be sure you are including plenty of vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, and plenty of water into your daily diet.
Shortages at grocery stores and limited visits makes this more challenging. If you don’t typically plan your meals in advance (I don’t), this may be necessary now to make sure you have healthy ingredients for your weekly meals. If you are picking up takeout, you can still make healthy choices. Studies have shown that poor diet can be linked to increased depression as well as health problems.
Maintain realistic expectations when teaching from home
We need to face the fact that school is not the first thing on people’s minds right now. Families who are used to being a part for several hours a day are not confined to their houses. Children miss the routine and their friends. Teens feel anxiety and are worried about all the things they are missing out on. They are also likely babysitting siblings and taking over more household chores.
Parents are working from home and having to now provide three meals a day, battle sibling squabbles, make sure school work is complete, and they cannot escape for a breather. If they have to go to work, they have the increased anxiety of the COVID-19 virus and worry about their kids who are home and the potential of bringing the virus home with them. Other parents have lost their jobs and that raises all kinds of fears.
All of this, combined with no stable timeline for an end, creates fear of the unknown. Anxiety is high. So, knowing this situation, teachers need to rethink their priorities. No realistic person expects the online lessons being provided to be an equal substitute for in-class instruction. So instead of stressing over the online situation, let’s take a look at what can be done to create a positive action to survive teaching from home.
Support your students
First and foremost continue to be a support system for your students. Stay in touch virtually and check on them and their families. Their mental health is far more important right now than any lesson you assign. We have no way of knowing what they are dealing with at home day to day, so let’s not add to their anxiety.
Require the minimum allowed
Depending on your school system’s directives, do the minimum that is required. Beyond a doubt, the beginning of next fall will be a long review and catch up time. It’s inevitable and to pretend otherwise is naive.
Teaching new material will not be as useful as trying to ensure they retain the knowledge they have gained so far. Let’s be really good at what we know rather than mediocre to poor at what we are being taught.
Set realistic deadlines
It is not realistic to think all students will have computer access for an online session when you want them online. Some kids don’t have service at all, some service is too slow, others have parents using computers or phones for their own work, so kids have to wait their turn. Make sure you allow plenty of time for assignments, accept excuses, extend deadlines if needed, and show some grace. These are not normal times, so let’s not pretend they are.
As much as possible, find ways to make this experience authentic and valuable. This is our time to show students the value of learning.
Make it real
As much as possible, find ways to make this experience authentic and valuable. What can students learn and do that applies to their current situation? What math or science can be done while learning to cook at home? Can language arts involve writing letters to people in the nursing home or creating a daily blog post, video, or instagram feed about their experiences? Can history be a virtual interview with someone who has lived through another historic time- think Sept. 11, Vietnam, Desert Storm? Can art be creating window artwork for people to see as they take a walk?
This is our time to show students the value of learning. We can teach so much more than just standards. We can teach students how to respond to these situations in a positive way and let them see those standards in action. With standardized tests suspended, now is your time to do real learning, so take advantage of it!
None of us has gone through a situation like this. We are living through history right now. One of the most positive ways we can survive these times is to record them. Keep a journal, do a daily vlog, or take pictures. Record your own children by asking them questions. Explore your feelings, the daily occurrences, and what is happening nationally and worldwide.
By doing this daily during the pandemic, you will have a book finished when it is finally all over. Years from now, your grandchildren or great grandchildren can read and listen to this like I did when my grandparents talked about the Great Depression.
It is important that you take care of yourself, your family, and your students. These positive actions will help you survive teaching from home and hopefully even help you embrace the moment. I read a post last week that said “I’m not stuck at home; I’m blessed to be at home.” Let’s remember our blessings!