In Uruguay classes were suspended on Saturday 14th March. Ever since we have been caught up in what is now called emergency remote teaching. It is not the regular remote teaching situation where we have ample time for planning and developing skills but first and foremost where we teachers choose. This current situation is completely different and certainly a situation where we feel we have no choice at all. We have to teach remotely, students have to learn remotely. This is the only way to keep education going. And we accept that.
What no-one told us is the toll that this emergency remote teaching would have on our well-being. Endless hours of planning, marking and teaching online have limited the off-time teachers have. And teachers are resilient people, we are accustomed to marathon marking and planning weekends and endless hours of teaching but somehow this is different. To begin with, there are two awkward feelings that accompany our daily work. For most, this situation is far from their comfort zone. And this not just implies the lack of or limited technological skills. Teachers have an array of tools that are based on face-to-face work and now have to find a way to translate those to this remote mode (it certainly feels being back at teacher training days where the sense of awkwardness accompanied our every move!). The second awkward feeling comes to the sense of uncertainty. We don’t know when this lockdown will end or how. Our work is based on different levels of planning according to a certain calendar which is fixed and the same every year. We are navigating uncharted waters with no end in sight.
A dear colleague recently published on her facebook account some thoughts she had on the matter and said “This quarantine has reminded parents how much teachers do but it’s also reminded teachers how much we truly care about our students. We may be physically apart but we worry about them day and night.” And I’ll add we managers worry about our teachers day and night. Teachers are over-worked, over-whelmed and many are showing signs of anxiety and depression. Some are parents as well and have to teach and assist their kids with their learning at the same time without the help of any other family member because of lockdown. Houses can be very chaotic and still need to look composed for their online sessions.
Here managers have a key role. These are a number of things I try to follow with my team to contribute my bit to help them:
- Connect and communicate: Keep in touch with your team not just for work-related stuff. I always start my coordination meetings with a catch-up chat on their personal situation. Hear them out. Reach out.
- Try to instill a work routine: Try to adjust the routine you had as a team in your institution. I have a weekly general coordination meeting with all staff and also a one-to-one meeting with each teacher. We do this over zoom. Try help your team to develop a work routine that gives them time to relax and connect with others. (and do it yourself as well!)
- Respect work time and free time: Certainly our work hours as managers have been stretched out. But try not to communicate with your team after office hours so as to give them some time for themselves.
- Sharing: Most of our teachers have developed incredible new skills and discovered new ways of doing things. Give them a chance and a space to share it with the rest of the team. This can be in the form of a coordination session where all teachers get to share something they have learnt to do in a different way, in a team blog, on a shared virtual space. Feeling that you can contribute and help others can ease the burden teachers feel.
- Use humour: One of the things that surprises me the most is the creativity people show in situations like this. There are amazing versions of traditional songs, memes, cartoons and many more showing the daily struggle of teachers doing this remote education with humour. Share this, have a laugh together. Humour does a great deal in easing our stress.
- Back to basics: Less in more in remote education. It has the enormous power of going deeper into things. Adjust your expectations to this new reality. Adjust syllabi and coverages to match each teachers’ strengths. Above all, be flexible.
- Be present, reach out: Make yourself available for your team as you are in their daily work at school. If you feel a teacher is being more withdrawn as usual, drop a quick line to check out how she/he is doing.
I guess there are many more ways you are all implementing to boost your teachers’ well-being. I invite readers to post a comment below on the ways you’re finding to do so. Reaching out and sharing, developing a sense of community is the best way to feel we’re not alone in this.