Four Steps Teachers Can Take to Find Peace Following the 2020-21 School Year
Congratulations Teachers! You did it! The 2020-21 school year is coming to an end. You survived! What a ride it has been!
The 2020-21 school year could be described by teachers in many ways. It has been a year filled with unprecedented changes, large amounts of uncertainty, a hefty dose of anxiety, numerous new procedures and safety measures, and for many of us digital learning!
I realize that none of us have had identical experiences. Some teachers have been teaching in person all year with safety precautions in place. Many teachers have utilized some version of a hybrid model to teach students, switching back and forth from virtual to digital. Some have spent the entirety of the school year teaching virtually, having never even met their students in person!
Regardless of our experiences, as the curtains begin to close on this most unconventional year, how can we even begin to process what we and our students have just been through? Even more, how can we end this year feeling good about our experiences?
I’ve come up with four steps for teachers who want to feel at peace with teaching during a global pandemic!
Step 1: Acknowledge the Negative
This may feel counterintuitive but stay with me! The challenges that teachers and students and parents have faced this year were unprecedented and they WERE challenges! It was a tough year! Covid-19 completely turned education on its head.
Many teachers were required to completely change the way they taught. Many had to learn new technology and new ways of doing things. Teachers were required to quickly learn how to host a Zoom meeting; how to present their information digitally; how to engage young people in effective learning over the internet; how to get teenagers to turn on their cameras and participate; how to teach in a classroom of socially distanced students AND Zoom students at the same time!
It. Was. Hard. And pretending otherwise, doesn’t help us!
Mental and emotional health experts will teach us that suppressing negative emotions is counterproductive! It often feels “right” to push those emotions away because we want to be positive and we want to feel happy! (It’s way more fun to feel happy, right?) In reality, when we push away or restrict ourselves from feeling anger, frustration, sadness, grief, irritation or any other of those “negative” emotions, we are actually just displacing them. Those feelings are still there inside of us, and they will manifest themselves again in stronger ways further on down the road! Think of it like a giant beach ball that you are trying to hold underwater in a swimming pool. The harder you try to push that ball down, the more forceful it is going to shoot back up when you eventually let it go! (I’m sure there is some scientific equation all our science teachers could put together for us to figure this out!)
It is the same with our emotions! The harder we try to suppress them, the stronger they will emerge when they eventually do come out!
We’ve all done this right? We’ve all had situations where we hold back a negative emotions and then it rears its ugly head later? Like when you had a legitimate reason to be upset and can hold it together for a while, but then completely lose your cool later over something relatively inconsequential? Yeah, I know I’ve definitely been there more often than I’d like to admit.
Let’s not do that! Instead, let’s “Name it to Tame it!” Label that feeling and then sit with it for a while. Are you sad about the way this school year played out? Be sad for a while. Are you angry about all the things you had to do? Be angry for a while! Sit with that anger. Let is rush over you. Are you feeling resentful about having to do a job you never signed up to do? Be resentful for a while! It’s okay to feel that way. In fact, it’s completely normal for us as human beings to have negative emotions.
As we allow ourselves to feel and experience those emotions, they will eventually pass through us. If we resist feeling those emotions, they will still be there and will eventually manifest themselves stronger later, often in unhealthy ways.
Step 2: Show Yourself Compassion
This year may not have looked perfect. For most of us, it was probably a far cry from perfect. Maybe your students didn’t demonstrate the growth you would have liked to see. Perhaps you feel like you didn’t show up as your best teaching self. Maybe you feel like you have underperformed in some areas.
Friend, all of that is okay. Sometimes we show up as our best selves and it’s awesome and amazing and there are other times—lots of other times—where we are not our best selves. Sometimes, we are complete and utter messes! That’s okay.
We love ourselves anyway.
Don’t beat yourself up or allow your inner critic to say mean things to yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a good teacher friend in the same situation. Be compassionate and encouraging and supportive to yourself! You just survived teaching school in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s a big deal! This will literally be in history books someday. Cut yourself some slack for the things that didn’t go so well. Despite all those things that weren’t perfect, everything is still going to work out just fine.
Step 3: Find the Positives
The next step is to find the positives! And I promise you there were some positives! Maybe the best positive outcome you can think of is that the year is over! That’s great! Let’s celebrate that we made it through! Maybe we are super impressed with the resiliency of our students. (It’s remarkable how they can adapt so quickly, isn’t it?) Maybe you celebrate the leaps and bounds you’ve made in your technological skills! Did you ever think you would be an online teacher? Now you know how! Add that baby to your resume! Maybe another positive is that you’ve learned that you can breathe wearing a mask all day! Maybe you’re thrilled about being vaccinated! I don’t know what your positives are, but I am certain they are there.
Whatever they may be, make a list of the things that you are feeling happy about—literally write them down! Celebrate them! Share them with your teacher friends, family, partner/spouse! Share them with your students! List all the things for which we can be grateful about this year! Everyone’s situation has been different and therefore everyone’s lists will look different. I don’t mean to go all Pollyanna on everyone, but I promise you there were definitely some good things about the past year. Take the time to acknowledge them.
Step 4: Intentional Reflection
The last thing we want to do to find peace about the past year is to take some time for some meaningful reflection.
Questions to consider might include:
- What from the past school year are you most proud of?
- What lessons did you learn about yourself? About teaching?
- What things from the past year do you want to continue doing?
- What are some things from the past year you would like to stop doing?
- What memories are you going to cherish?
- What new skills did you acquire that may prove useful moving forward?
You could reflect about anything, but I think it’s helpful to take some time and answer some questions about your thoughts about the past year. Writing them down is even more helpful as it forces us to be more intentional and articulate with our thoughts and feelings.
Adversity & Growth
I know the past year hasn’t been easy for so many reasons—professionally and personally. However, I believe adversity brings opportunity for growth! As we are intentional about our thoughts and feelings about the past year and intentional about our steps moving forward, we can simultaneously experience peace and progress. We can move forward as stronger and better teachers and human beings.
Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)