I’m staring out at my classroom. The tables are all facing one way, front and center. Tape designates each chair’s placement. I hesitated to put up decorations in my new classroom because I’m not sure what decorations are even allowed right now. Everything simply feels eerily – cold.
Let me be clear. I did not expect this school year to be “normal.” However, I was optimistic about the challenges and opportunities for growth. I would be remiss, however, to neglect the fact that in our hybrid setting, everything has been completely turned on its head. Bathroom breaks for students and teachers must be scheduled, co-curriculars are cancelled, and collaborative work in person is all but a memory. We won’t do High-Five Fridays, and I can’t kneel down next to students to help.
Families and community members across the country, though, have created expectations that their child’s schooling will be business as usual. Teachers feel an intensified pressure to rise above these expectations to ensure the highest quality of education – and because we are teachers, we will.
Most people who do not know an educator intimately may not see these realities, and that too has caused even more undue anxiety. We’ve been labeled lazy and difficult, and our own political leaders are ignorant to the dangers we face heading back, believing our hesitation lies more within a political agenda rather than health safety.
This outside noise cannot and should not be at the expense of our own health and well-being. For too long, we have pushed aside our stress, burdens, and sleep to do what is best for our students. Since schools closed in March, this has been even more a reality. We literally reimagined our classrooms within a weekend, learned new instructional technology, stayed up all hours hoping to get an assignment from a student, and spent most of the time worrying about “our kids.” Were they safe? Did they have food? Were their families struggling? Gone were the worries of Common Core Standards and standardized tests. We were left wondering, “How are they surviving?”
After remote learning this spring, several ideas to center our own well-being came to my mind:
Find Your People
Surround yourself with collaborative risk-takers who are open to and willing to change. These individuals should lift each other up and support one another. A group I’ve leaned on considerably lately is the Network of Minoritized Educators, or National Board NAME, a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards affiliated group of minoritized educators from around the country Every Wednesday, we meet for Mindful Breathing & Meditation, an affinity space hosted for women of color to meditate and share our experiences for the week. This time has encouraged me to open up about challenges, find common ground with these women, and just breathe.
Avoid Toxic Positivity
It is unrealistic to stay positive all the time and doing this will lead to burnout. There is pressure to ensure classrooms (either virtual or in-person) look “Instagram worthy.” But I ask you – “In this year?” It.does.not.matter. Do it if it makes you happy, but if it does not, that is okay too. This year, focus on what makes you feel satisfied, and ditch everything else that does not. You do not have space in your mind for anything else.
If there is one year to try something new, this is the year. Take to heart that things will not be perfect, and there will be times you will fail. Much like we teach our students, failure is essential for growth. For most of us who strive for perfection (also not realistic), we struggle with this concept. But the beauty of this uncertain year is that we can try something and gather feedback.
Promote Self-care for Students
Implement time for students to partake in brain breaks, breathing exercises, or other social-emotional activities. Content is secondary. Build a community of which you are proud. Conformity and many of the concrete rules schools put in place are systems of white supremacy, and students need places to explore their creativity, be themselves, and recover from the trauma of the previous school year. Your classroom can be that safe-space for all students.
Prioritize self-care for YOU
Finally, and most importantly, DO YOU. Take that day off. Leave your computer at work. Spend those extra five minutes cuddled with your own children. Whatever self-care means to you, take it. Do not feel any guilt about prioritizing yourself.
We are all struggling to wrap our heads around the countless changes that have taken place, however, what we do know, is that educators around the country will be there to support one another.