The month of March is typically a long one for educators in the northeast, as there usually aren’t any holidays or days off. Once every few years there is a snow day which provides a random respite. Never in our wildest dreams would New Jersey educators, and many others across our nation, imagine we would have weeks out of our school buildings due to a global pandemic, as we are currently experiencing with COVID-19 otherwise known as the coronavirus.
Teachers, counselors, child study team members, speech therapists, media specialists, school nurses, administrators and other school personnel have been faced with the challenge of providing educational services from home, which may be as big of an adjustment for them as it is for students to learn from home.
This Sunday evening instead of preparing to go into school buildings the next day, educators will be preparing in a much different way. On Monday morning in place of the typical morning rush and making a buzz line to the copy machine, teachers have the option to log onto their online teaching platform from their pajamas and drink their cup of coffee while it is still hot. While this can sound like an educator’s dream, providing quality education and services from the comfort of their own home - as their own children and families are also home - can present its own set of challenges.
Here are three tips to help make the virtual teaching experience a success for educators during this unprecedented time.
Define Your Space
After a long day’s work, educators sometimes grade papers and plan from their couches. However, working off the couch all day will not only hurt your back, but it might also make you feel unproductive and get “lost” in front of your TV or computer screen. Set up a work space you can use when being available to students and planning for the following days. It will help structure you, as well as create a visual boundary so your family understands when you are working... despite the pajama pants.
Plan Your Time
While it may sound appealing to watch daytime TV followed by a Netflix marathon, not only would you not be available for your students, you may get sucked into mismanaging your time which can lead to stressful moments at home. During this time of heightened alert, there is no need for additional stress. Maintaining a routine will help you stay focused during work hours, and it will help you be available for your family during non-work hours.
Tips to planning your time:
Have an adjusted wake-up time. Being that commuting is not an issue, give yourself extra time in the morning to express gratitude for the day, to actually feel the air come into your lungs, and maybe even stretch a bit while still in bed. Paying attention to these small acts is engaging in mindfulness, which can bring a peaceful start to your day.
Create a schedule. While working from home gives you flexibility to eat whenever you’re actually hungry, in addition to giving you the liberty to using the restroom whenever you want (teachers know what I mean here!), creating a schedule of sorts will help you stay focused and productive, in addition to helping your family understand when you are working. Establish a morning and afternoon schedule for yourself, eat your lunch mindfully as you focus on your meal and pay attention to what you eat (instead of rushing through to get 10 things accomplished in 45 minutes), and spend time with your family during your “prep time.”
Have boundaries. Explain to your family - especially if you have children of your own - when you will be working. Be present in time and provide students your best, just as you would in person. When the school day is done, have boundaries there as well so you are able to be present with your own children and family.
Have Grace & Compassion…
...for yourself and others.
There is a lot of unknown in our nation and earth, which may leave us feeling a variety of emotions. Honor your feelings. It may be helpful to write down how you’re feeling (in a journal or in an app like Moodpath). This can give you the space to express how you feel instead of suppressing it, avoiding it, or ranting and impacting the feelings of others.
Honor changes in the world while having patience and flexibility. This is uncharted territory for most of us. It is okay to not know everything and to take it one day at a time.
Understand social distancing looks different for everyone. While some may not be seriously impacted if they contract the virus, others may. This may be true because of their own health, or because of the contact they have with family members who have compromised health. We are all coming from a different place with different experiences - meaning not everyone may be willing to meet up for a late lunch or a cup of coffee. Be kind to others.
Also be kind to yourself.
As educators we work hard, and a lot! We’re always thinking about how to improve our craft and be there for our students. It is also important to be there for yourself. After the work day, play with your children, facetime family and friends, go for a walk, or just take naps.
Taking good care of yourself goes beyond handwashing. Take care of your mind, body and soul, and seek help when needed.
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Vanessa De Jesus Guzman is a former teacher, school counselor and licensed associate counselor serving children and families in the northern New Jersey area.
To learn more visit www.freetobemindful.com.