Physical and mental wellbeing for teachers: some tips

There can be no denying that the year 2020 has been a totally unprecedented one for the world over. We have all made changes and sacrifices in our daily lives. Coping with changes in both our working and private lives is extremely challenging. Just google managing change and see how many entries there are. I am very comfortable with my own teaching style which is authentic and vulnerable at the same time. I always try to tap into students’ likes and needs and adapt lessons and approaches to meet those likes and needs. I know how to  build great rapport with learners, how to monitor and circulate in the face to face classroom seeking to engage learners and striving to get the best from them and ultimately watching them reach their potential and goals. This is both rewarding and relatively stress free for me. It is what I do. The classroom is my stage and I am the director in the vein of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach, favouring improvisation and not being afraid of letting the students take centre stage. The horseshoe layout is my scenery, the whiteboard, P.C. and projector my props, and the students, my players. It all makes perfect sense.

Suddenly, the immortal words, “ we are moving the course online, there won’t be any face-to-face classes.” Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  The phrase, adapt or die springs to mind. Talk about stressful. Yes, stressful for all concerned. There is constant talk of student wellbeing and student mental health but little or no mention of teacher wellbeing. In many cases a teacher’s role is both pastoral and educational but who is looking out for teachers? Who has got teachers’ backs? Well, it would seem that you have to take responsibility for your own wellbeing. I could hear my own words ringing in my ears when I say to students, “ You must take responsibility for your own learning.” Therefore, I decided to do just that. My wellbeing is in my hands.

Tip number 1 Digitally Upskill

In order to cope in this Brave New World of online teaching and not to feel all at sea I knew that my first port of call so to speak, was to digitally upskill myself rapido! I like to think of myself as quite tech savvy, I mean I use Kahoot and Mentimeter in my classes. However, when the mention of Zoom, Padlet, Slack, Edmodo and Google Docs bring you out in a cold sweat you know that you need to make the leap into the future, which is for sure going to be digital. I, immediately, enrolled on a Future Learn course for teaching English online and attended webinars organised by Trinity and Cambridge. This trio, was a brilliant grounding and I subsequently set up Zoom calls with friends who were quite surprised when I started sharing powerpoints and putting them into break out rooms to have discussions and asking them to share their ideas in the chat. They thought it was time for a catch-up but these calls were invaluable practice. My advice get down with the tech. It really boosts confidence and let’s you get on with the teaching. Watch your stress levels drop. And breathe………. you just shared a pdf file in the chat. Result!

Tip number 2 Stick to a Routine

In a way this is easier for teachers as we are always working to a timetable anyway. What I mean is, make sure that you have a break as you would in a school and make a brew, phone a colleague for a quick chat/rant. Move away from the screen, go for a quick walk, get outside, meditate or do some stretching. I would also advocate making a planning/marking timetable too. One of the difficulties of working from home is making the differentiation between work and leisure time. A friend of mine renamed working from home, living from work. Let’s face it. It’s confusing. 

Tip number 3 Do Exercise

Make an exercise timetable or routine and stick to it. This is something I have done myself and I have to say that I am quite proud of my achievement. I started running in the mornings 3 days a week. Prior to this I think I once ran for a bus in sandals and duly tripped, grazed my knee and missed the bus and I thought to myself, mmm, I won’t be doing that again. Fast forward to 2020 and I went from zero to hero and completed the Couch to 5k challenge and now run 3km three times a week. Seriously, if I can do it, anyone can. If running’s not your bag set aside 10 minutes a day to do some yoga stretching before you fire up the P.C., it really is a great way to start the day. If yoga doesn’t appeal go for a brisk walk first thing, it really clears the cobwebs and gets you ready to start your online day.

Tip number 4 Communicate with People

Phone a friend or colleague. It’s good to talk. Communication is key. A good old chinwag does wonders for the soul. I’m a big fan of venting to colleagues. It makes me feel so much better and less stressed. If you combine walking with talking you’ll be surprised at how many steps you have completed too. It’s win-win. Humans are social beings so we need this interaction for the sake of our wellbeing. 

Tip number 5 Read a Real Book

Set aside thirty minutes to read a book everyday. I mean a real book not on a kindle or a tablet. Find somewhere quiet, sit back and read for pure pleasure and relaxation. It’s nice to turn the pages and feel the paper and look at the cover. I’m no Luddite, but there’s something really comforting in reading a real book especially with a steaming cuppa tea and it gives your eyes a break from the screen too. 

Tip number 6 Learn a Complementary Therapy

Learn about massage, aromatherapy, Indian head massage or reflexology. This could be another transferable skill you could use when back in the office or school as a stressbuster for yourself and others. I am talking about massage, aromatherapy, yoga and deep breathing. Who doesn’t love a good neck rub or shoulder massage? What better way to combat stress than to have a quick yoga session in the school during the lunch break or after classes?

Tip number 7 Drink Plenty of Water

This may seem obvious but drink plenty of water. As teachers our voice is our main tool for teaching and if we lose it, this could be a problem. We have to speak more loudly in a classroom obviously as compared to online but we still need to make sure that our vocal chords are lubricated. I drank more water in the classroom than I do working from home so this is something that I should think about.

Tip number 8 Be Kind to Yourself and Others

Finally, be kind to yourself and others. If you are a whizz with Google Docs give a colleague a quick tutorial. This whole situation has been challenging on so many levels and we all get stressed and anxious. To be honest, sometimes we need to have a time out. That’s the ideal time to go for a walk. I like to put my headphones on and head out to the park and do a couple of circuits, it always clears my head and then I feel refreshed to carry on with my work. 


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