Ask a teacher how their job makes them feel and you are likely to get the whole gamut of responses.
Feelings of joy and excitement to connect with students and inspire them to be all they can be are common. Many teachers feel a trepid sense of nervous adventure at starting a new school year and are looking forward to diving right in. Others might be a bit more anxious and already feeling some of the common stresses.
No one familiar with the ins and outs of the education system thinks teaching is an easy career choice. It is a stressful job where you’re regularly balancing the needs of high-performing students with underperforming students, keeping up with grading and other administrative workloads, updating lesson plans, interacting with parents, fighting for better pay, and potentially dealing with political objectives impacting the classroom that are outside of your control.
It is easy to understand why there is a growing teacher shortage in the United States. The job takes a massive toll on the mental health of educators and burnout isn’t all that uncommon.
Many school districts are searching for creative ways to help alleviate some of the struggles and help teachers address their needs. Ideas include changes to the traditional school schedule and the introduction of technologies that can help teachers with their workloads.
Goodbye Traditional Schooling
School isn’t what it used to be back when you were a kid.
Today, technology dominates the classroom and most students have regular access to laptops and other forms of tech to aid in learning objectives. The COVID-19 pandemic has made both teachers and students much more adept at online education. However, many teachers and students agree that in-person learning is much more enjoyable and effective.
Thoughts on the purpose of some classes are changing too. For example, when many of us think about memories of P.E., there is often a rope that must be climbed or a ball that must be dodged. Not so anymore! Today, many forward-thinking P.E. classes are linked to larger objectives such as teaching kids (and other teachers) nutritional skills and tying physical and mental health together.
It may come as a surprise, but these skills can help kids behave and focus more in the classroom, which takes a large burden off of teachers. Many PE teachers are utilizing tech to connect and share these ideas with a broader group of educators. Some even have YouTube channels that outline their lesson plans and teach skills such as yoga for health and meditation.
Traditionally, most schools have kids in the classroom 5 days a week, Monday through Friday. This is also changing in many school districts. Today, numerous districts are changing to a 4-day school week with Fridays left for teachers to catch up on administrative tasks, grading, and professional development.
The goal is to ease some of the burden placed on teachers while also saving poorer and rural school districts money.
Incorporating New Technologies
Many future-thinking educators are consistently looking for answers to an age-old question. How can we cultivate learning experiences that will help students develop the skills they will need in the future job market?
There is no easy or exactly right answer to the question, but in many cases today, it involves technology.
New technologies in the classroom can mean a lot of things, not just learning to type on a computer. It can mean engaging students using video media or immersing them in subjects using VR headsets. Technologies in the classroom can be simple and common such as posting assignments online where students and parents can see them, using translation software to communicate with parents, or conducting testing online.
All of the technology can be great for improving education objectives. It can help teachers better manage their classrooms and stay more organized, which can ease the mental stress they face.
There is a catch to this though; some studies have indicated that the perceived help technology provides only becomes a reality when teachers understand how to implement it effectively. Otherwise, new tech in the classroom can prove to be one more stressor that educators regularly face.
Helping Teachers Manage Mental Health
Building mental health resilience in teaching communities isn’t always a straightforward or simple task. Rather, it takes real focus and understanding of the stressors that many teachers face daily. It takes a deeper knowledge of the burnout that teachers feel after one, five, or ten years in the classroom.
There are a handful of things that many educational leaders suggest to help fight burnout and improve teaching at the same time.
They include things like:
- Prioritizing your professional development.
- Making time for yourself during the school year, even if it is something small like reading for fun before school.
- Connecting with other teachers across the nation. Online teaching communities and groups can be especially powerful for inspiration and lesson ideas.
- Finding your mental health outlet. It can be an app on your phone, it can be exercise, it can be baking — just find something that helps you unwind.
Taking care of our teachers is an important priority that we all need to strive for.
Education is a stressful career path and working to help teachers maintain their mental health is beneficial for them, for our students, and for our communities.