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Elementary teachers are among my favorite people on this entire planet because you are the salt of the Earth.
I know you’re worrying about your students. I know you’re constantly wondering if you’re doing enough and constantly feeling like you aren’t, and that pervasive feeling of not doing enough is what I really want to dive in and explore today.
Everyone is doing this entire online learning thing differently depending on the tools they have access to, and it’s uncovered an entirely new understanding and awareness of the inherent inequality in our education system across the globe.
The lack of resources in some cases, or the blatant inequalities that are suddenly present when every child’s home is suddenly on display for the world to see when their class gathers on Zoom has raised an entirely new set of problems. The somewhat stabilizing force of the school and the classroom has been removed, and so many of us are feeling the weight of worrying for our students in an entirely new way.
So in acknowledging that, let’s talk about what you can do to get some relief from that constant pressure and worry about your students, from your concern that you are never doing enough.
Related to my first point, you may be giving parents & students too much access to you because you are feeling guilty because you can’t be there for them, or because you feel like this is what you’re supposed to do.
However, I would encourage you to work on releasing feelings of guilt for things that you have no control over. You did not create this pandemic, and it was not your choice to be home and away from your students. You don’t have any control over what’s going on in the world, and you burning yourself out because you feel guilty that you can’t be there for your students is not going to help anyone.
I know – it doesn’t help when you get an angry email from a parent who is asking why you aren’t constantly available, why you aren’t doing more, or why you aren’t online with their children all day, every day.
But, instead of feeling guilty for not being there ALL the time, choose compassion and grace for that parent. Their frustration has more to do with the situation and with not knowing how to navigate all of this themselves.
They’ve never taught 3rd grade math before, and they are fast learning a deep appreciation for your many gifts and talents that you so take for granted as you work with and support their children inside the classroom every day.
Their need is great, but have all been thrown into an impossible situation, including parents, and we are all doing the best we can. The answer to their overwhelm is not to feel guilt because you aren’t doing more.
And here’s why: that constant, pervasive, underlying feeling of guilt that you may be laying on yourself is literally a heaviness that you can only carry around with you for so long until you get worn down and make yourself susceptible to getting sick yourself.
The best thing you can do for your students is to choose to lighten your own load – to release the guilt and take care of yourself so that you can continue to be there for them. Even though you want to support the parents of your students, your job is not to be on call 24 hours a day to teach them how to teach.
This is not the time to try to impress yourself or anyone else with doing *all the things.*
As I saw someone post on Instagram the other day, “This is a pandemic, not a productivity contest.” You are in this for the long game – so find your rhythm & relax into it because teaching from home is NOT the same as teaching at school.
One hour of online instruction requires a lot more prep and planning and time than teaching in the regular classroom does. So, set your priorities with regard to what you feel is most important for students to be doing right now, and only require them to do that work.
Right now, that means the basics.
Depending on what your school is requiring of you, I would only assign work in the core subjects: Reading, Writing, and Math, as well as strongly encouraging your students to do something every day that gets their bodies moving.
A steady diet of Netflix or YouTube kids while laying on the couch is only going to contribute to feelings of depression, even in children, so I would make it a requirement that kids get up and get moving every single day.
And, in the core areas, keep things simple. Have your students choose a book that they want to read and give them a few comprehension questions to answer about that book.
In writing, ask your students to write in a journal each day about topics like how they’re feeling right now, or about the 10 things they will do as soon as this social isolation requirement is over, or what their top 5 picks are for shows to watch while at home and why they’re awesome.
In math, give your students problems to solve that use the names of their classmates.
The point is to ask your students to do less work, but more meaningful work, because now, more than ever, our job is to just keep kids engaged.
So, rather than creating a system of complex assignments, keep things simple and keep the small tasks you are requiring of your students meaningful so that when your class does get onto a Zoom call or however else your class is connecting, they actually have some great things to share with the group to help keep everyone connected.
It doesn’t say anything about you, and it certainly doesn’t mean that’s what you should be doing. Let yourself be inspired and grab all of the great ideas and enjoy them. But don’t let that mean anything negative about you. Get away from social media, and just stay in your own lane, as tempting as the feed is.
And, there is nothing wrong with unfollowing people who you might be bringing up those feelings of not doing enough. You don’t need that extra pressure or those negative emotions right now, or ever, for that matter.
What if my students don’t do enough work this year that they’re so far behind that they can’t be successful at the next grade level?
What if I’m not doing enough right now, and that’s the reason my students fail next year?
Fear and uncertainty about the future and playing this “what if” game is not going to serve you or your students, because again, you really don’t have any control over how this is all going to play out.
What you DO have control over is what you do now, in this present moment. What you CAN do is to ask yourself, “What can I do today to serve my students best?”
Stay here now, in this present moment, with your students, and let that be enough, because that’s all you have any control over anyways.
Worrying about the future doesn’t improve it – it only takes away any feeling of peace you could have today.
Also, spring is coming, even though we are in the midst of all of this, and as I talked about last week, one of the highlights of my day now is my evening walk with my husband to enjoy the beauty and warmth of the season, the smell of fresh cut grass, and to see all of the baby horses and new life all around us in Kentucky.
So whatever it is for you – maybe it’s yoga on your back patio, maybe it’s going for a long walk while talking on the phone with a friend or with your mom – find some way to get outside and to move your body every day. Nothing helps to relieve feelings of stress and anxiety quicker than getting out and enjoying a change of scenery, especially during quarantine.
In fact, just last week, I opened the doors for 4 days only to my R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy because some of the teachers inside my Beginning Teacher Talk private Facebook Group were commenting about how they would love to use this time to start getting ready for their first school year. As a result, new teachers inside my community are taking advantage of this time they have at home to start getting ready and looking forward to a brand new school year!
Whatever it is for you, I encourage you to think forward to all of the good ahead and take advantage of this time at home to learn a new skill set or brush up on something that you want to get better at.
So I hope that helps, and I hope that you have a wonderful week - even at this very strange time in our world. And until next time, remember, that just because you're a beginning elementary teacher who is teaching from home, there is no need for you to struggle like one!
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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