Teaching has always been an isolating profession. We spend all day in a classroom with little people who get our jokes. The adult conversations we get happen during recess or staff meetings or in the bathroom line waiting for a toilet.
My husband has a joke about teachers, they can seek each other out anywhere in the world. It never fails that when we travel to another country and meet another couple, one of them will be a teacher. He calls it teacher radar.
And it’s true. When two teachers meet in the wild, they talk about teaching. Because it’s another human in the world who actually gets it.
I mean, Mr. Ninja tries to be supportive, but unless you’re in the trenches, you don’t really get it.
Well, you know what makes teachers even more disconnected-a freaking pandemic. Yup! Imagine that. So what’s a teacher supposed to do now?
All summer we waited to find out what was going to happen
We knew nothing. We waited. We checked for emails everyday and there weren’t any…until the day it came. No one knew what back to school would like or when it would happen. There was a lot of back and forth and teachers went from being the heroes of the world to useless public servants who should get to work.
Finally the email arrived-the day before the first scheduled operational day.
It was just a short one about what to bring for the staff meeting. Absolutely no information.
Now we know. And it’s worse than we thought (but the staff meeting snacks were good).
In our district, both in person and online teaching are being offered. Teachers have been assigned to one or the other, but the teachers with health concerns were assigned to distance teaching first. Parents were polled and students signed up for one or the other.
Well, the ninjas aren’t in the same classroom and since distance teaching wasn’t available, one ninja has taken a temporary leave. There’s other stuff going on, but it was the best choice for their family and health.
The other ninja was assigned “other duties as assigned” which comes down to “no idea, but we need you here until the numbers are finalized, we know you teach Grade 4 and 5 but how do you feel about music and kindergarten?”
Not good. That’s how we feel. Let’s hope it gets better.
And we’re not alone
Teachers across the globe have had to relearn everything they’ve ever learned about teaching. All the strategies for engagement have been tossed out the window in favour of safe worksheets, printable packets of hands-off basics that may or may not use technology because all the devices have been sent home with the distance teaching students.
Classes are disrupted by Internet issues and sanitizing policies. Flexible seat options have been closeted and old crappy desks and chairs are lined up in rows (even though there’s no room for two metres of distancing). Books and book shelves are gone or quarantined or limited for cleaning.
Teachers are changing grades.
Teachers are changing subjects.
Teachers are moving schools.
Teachers are teaching in their kitchens.
This sucks. There’s no other way to put it.
We got an email from a ninja who summed it up so well. We’ve only edited her email slightly-she raved about all of our resources and we just couldn’t put that in a post 😉
Hi Ninjas!Tiffany, Medicine Hat
I am sad to hear that you aren’t able to continue rocking your teaching together! It seems obvious that so much of your success comes from your ideas generated together and probably “in the moment.” I think many in Alberta (and provincially, and nationally, and globally) will be able to relate to that idea of disconnectedness this year.
I work at a rural K-9 school. I consider it an “easy year” if I haven’t moved grades, subjects, or rooms. This year, I’ve done all three. I went from a few years of teaching Math/LA/SS 5 (and feeling like I was just starting to find my groove!) to Math/Science 6. In a new room. In a pandemic.
I also specialize in music for elementary students and junior high band. So this year is starting out without two of the things that really get my mental health in the right place. Singing and playing instruments in the band.
I have found it hard to connect with my teaching besties so far. We all teach different things. Kindergarten, Grade 2/3, and junior high social. I haven’t had a break with a co worker yet. (I mean, I guess it is only Day 2!)
But I’m hopeful. I’m grateful for being in person with my students. Teaching most of the students K-9 gives me relationships with the students in my school and now we can resume our fun chats.
I’m grateful for my teaching besties who are all about doing what’s best for kids. All of our kids. And they are rocking it. (We started classes yesterday!)
I’m hopeful, and cautious.
What Tiffany shared, sums up how so many teachers are feeling. Disconnected.
Recesses don’t line up. Some people are at home. Our teacher besties are in survival mode just like us.
How can you reconnect?
Have a meeting
No, not a staff meeting. No one needs that.
Have a friend meeting. If you can’t meet in person, jump on a Google Meet or Zoom call together with an adult beverage and have a chat. Vent. Cry. Do whatever you need to do. Wear something comfortable.
If you can meet in person, sit outside. Bring lawn chairs (while the weather allows) and sit apart to have a chat. It doesn’t have to be teaching related at all. Maybe you want to play a little game. Use these discussion cards to start you off if you’re stuck for ideas. We also have a Would You Rather game in our Resource Library. We can send it to you for free if you sign up for our emails.
Just a short time together can help get you on track.
Short cards, little notes or even text messages can mean so much to another teacher. You don’t have to be Shakespeare and you don’t have to spend hours doing it. You don’t have time for that anyway. Sometimes writing kinds words to other people helps lift your own spirits.
Drop a message in someone’s mailbox, leave a card on someone’s desk or send an email to your friend who is locked in their house doing distance teaching.
If you need something funny to send to someone, consider using our blog post Animals in the Classroom. It features the most disastrous pet incidents at school.
Use Social Media Connections
No, we do not mean read the comment sections of teaching articles on Facebook. That’s a big no.
Reach out to people on social media. They can be people you know in real life or people who follow. Don’t just like a photo. Comment. Engage others. Don’t be a troll. That’s not what this is for.
For example, if you reach out to us on Instagram. We’ll chat back. We love those connections from real teachers. So do many other teacher authors. We’re real people and we’ve been in your shoes.
There are lots of Facebook groups designed for teachers. We haven’t started one for our ninjas yet, but maybe this is the year? If you think we should do this, send us an email. 🙂
If you can’t find a Facebook group that fits your needs, create one. You can invite the people in your life that will help you feel connected. The upside is that you control the group so you can set the tone and can decide who is in the group. The downside is that you probably don’t need another thing to do.
Mental health is for teachers, too
There is a lot of talk about student mental health and how important the school environment is for their well-being. Very little is being said about teacher mental health.
You matter, too.
First, your mental health is more important than your job. Of course you need your job, but you can’t do your job if your mental health is suffering.
A few weeks ago one of the ninjas (me) had a visit with her doctor. He said, “Let’s talk about your glass balls.”
It would have been a spit take if I’d been drinking something, but alas.
Anyway, the jist is the if all the things that matter in your life are a glass ball, think about all these things: health, teaching, parenting, wifing, daughtering, writing, blogging etc. Each one is a glass ball.
Now imagine dropping them on the floor and they all smash.
Which ones can you not live without?
It made it easy. I can’t do any of the other things if I am not well. Health comes above all the other things.
After that, you can start replacing the other glass balls (and of course you can prioritize and balance the ones you can manage).
So, to take care of your mental health, do the things that help you centre. That could be exercise, sleeping, planning, watching Schitt’s Creek (Ew, David) or baking up a storm.
If you ever feel that your mental health is unwell to the point you cannot manage it, please reach out to your family doctor or if you are considering harming yourself or others, call 911 (or the emergency line in your country). In Canada, Crisis Services Canada is available 24 hours a day by phone or text.
Don’t work through breaks
If you get a chance to see another teacher for recess or lunch, use that time to chat. Don’t use it to work. There will always be more work, but you’ll get that work done more efficiently when you recharge a bit.
If your teacher besties don’t have their breaks at the same time, try chatting up some newbies. You’ll never be able to replace your bestie, but maybe you’ll find someone who can relate.
Talk to the other people
Teachers naturally talk with other teachers, but there are a lot of other adults who come into schools. Your custodian, educational assistants and office staff are probably all feeling the same way.
Just saying hi or asking someone how their weekend was can be the beginning of a new friendship. And many teachers overlook these people because teachers are so busy.
Do the social stuff
You know how school staff always have those people who organize things for the staff. Do some of them. You don’t have to do them all, but sometimes just doing a few can help you de-stress with your coworkers.
Other will see you as accessible and might even reach out to you. This can be really helpful if you’re in a new position.
Keep it positive
If the venting it getting you down or the people in your circle are killing your positive spark, try changing the tone of the conversation. If that doesn’t work, limit your time in that circle. Misery loves company, but it won’t make your situation better.
Try the two minute rule. The two ninjas and a co-worker used to regularly sit on the floor of a hallway closet with a bag of chocolate covered almonds. We would set a time for two minutes where the one teacher was allowed to b**** about anything they wanted without any interruptions. Then we took turns.
After everyone was done, we felt so much better and weren’t allowed to complain again. It worked wonders (and the almonds were great). If you’re doing this during the pandemic, wear masks, spread out and portion the almonds before you start so no one is touching them in the bag.
Sidenote: don’t put the almonds in your mask. They roll out. 😉
Be a ninja
You’re a ninja. We’re right there with you anytime you need us. This ninja community is much bigger than we realized, but join us. If you are not already on our email list, come sign up. We’ve got your back.
So, when you’re feeling alone. You can always count on us. We’re looking for more ideas to connect during this uncertain time, so if you have an idea, let us know in the comments below.