Mental well-being of teachers in the pandemic
One of the biggest challenges after schools shut down due to Covid-19 and teaching had to shift online, was not seeing the students every day. For people who are used to seeing each other every day and gauging the energy, mood, readiness to learn, that is a big adjustment. Students and teachers routinely exchange that energy for the betterment of each other, to set the tone for learning, and this personal interaction suddenly was cut off from them, leaving a vacuum. Getting used to it and reaching out to the students took a while. It’s still not back to baseline, but they are all learning to adapt.
As a classroom teacher, if one has to suddenly transform into a distance-learning expert, it is a tall order. Yet, the task is upon them. They need to adapt, improvise, and overcome. Given that they are not trained experts in online platforms, the obvious hurdle for regular teachers was learning to use the online techniques to send their message across to the students. That required a few hours of training, either provided by our institutions, or self-training at home. But with a few hits and misses, they were ON. They could connect with software and video conferencing and all the various tools available on the Internet. However, that was just the tip of the iceberg!
The transition to virtual faculty has not only challenged the teachers to find a new way to teach lessons to their students, but it has also taken a toll on their mental well-being. If you were to ask the teachers to describe in their own words the three most frequent emotion’s they feel each day- the top five words would be “fearful,” “worried,” “overwhelmed,” “sad” and “anxious”. The two main sources of these emotions are fear for their personal health and their friends and family and stress from having to manage their job full time, from home, while adapting to new technology.
Teachers across the country have been faced with the intimidating and heroic task of radically rewriting their plans and coming up with send-home and on-line lessons while coping with their own anxieties around COVID-19.
In some schools, in areas where there are low-income families, and students don’t have the most ideal learning environment, they are not required to turn on their cameras. So, teachers don’t even know if anyone is listening to their lesson. Sometimes, students use their microphone to ask or answer a question, but usually they just type in the chat. This results in the teachers feeling as though they are just talking to themselves most of the time. And talking to a blank screen all day is not great for mental health.
Another huge challenge the teachers have faced is how to keep the students engaged. In class, they are right in front of each other. It’s their domain, and they know how to navigate it well. Online, it is an extremely tentative environment. More like walking on a minefield, if some students refuse to cooperate.
Nothing is ever 100%. It is a constant, never-ending process of learning. This wisdom is what we all need to draw from, in these difficult times. The teachers are spending hours and hours of extra time in an endeavour to give the best to their students, especially using the tools that they have not been specifically trained to use. For some of them, finding appropriate material online is very difficult. For others, it is grading the assignments. Some teachers are having to re-work their entire teaching plans because sequencing of lessons online have to be different. These technical challenges can leave them stressed out if we expect perfection from Day #1. The key is to keep working and take feedback from students so that they can serve them better. After all, the entire endeavour is to help them learn. Also, to focus on students’ mental health in the current circumstances, it is essential to incorporate a few minutes at the start of every school day for Social Emotional Learning.
A few cues to keep the students engaged in online learning.
- Segment your lectures into shorter sequences.
- Check comprehension by asking quick questions or spot quizzes to test for the key lesson in each segment.
- Walk through step-by-step examples.
- Maximize the access to extra material for all students. Those who missed a point here or there should be able to go back and re-visit the lecture.
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