Teachers were already stressed and burned out before COVID, causing some districts to take steps such as introducing yoga classes or other stress-relieving activities. But COVID has taken these problems to a new level, opening a floodgate of stress, mental health issues, and burnout. In fact, 84 percent of educators reported that teaching is more stressful than before COVID.
In addition to everyday challenges, teachers have faced numerous difficulties since the onset of the pandemic, including:
- The need to adapt curricula to distance learning and engage students online
- Burnout from logistical problems, teaching challenges, and everyday stress
- Expanded responsibilities and longer hours because other teachers have left their jobs
- Deciding whether or not they can or want to continue to work as a teacher
- Having the knowledge to recognize and respond to student mental health issues and bullying
How Can We Help Teachers Cope
Even though some of these challenges teachers face have decreased since COVID vaccinations and treatments have become available, the trauma that leads to mental and emotional stress for students and teachers alike can remain for an extended period.
This situation leads us to ask how districts can provide their educational team with the resources and support needed to address wellness issues. Several approaches have been suggested by experts in the field, including:
Provide Trauma-Informed Training - One way to improve teachers’ wellness is to provide trauma-informed training that explores how trauma can impact mental health, perception, and behavior. This training improves the staff’s ability to spot potential problems, suggest ways to adapt professional activities (such as meetings) and offer professional resources to treat mental health issues.
Promote Resiliency - According to the American Psychological Association, “Resilience is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.” Districts can help increase resiliency by providing social and psychological support that helps teachers learn healthy coping skills. They can also explore organizations that offer resiliency training programs and courses.
Support Mental Health Literacy - The National Institutes of Health describes Mental Health Literacy (MHL) as “understanding how to obtain and maintain positive mental health; understanding mental disorders and their treatments; decreasing stigma related to mental disorders, and enhancing help-seeking efficacy.” While most teachers are not trained psychologists, they can still benefit from efforts to remove the stigma around mental health, recognize mental health symptoms, and guide their peers to proper support resources.
A report from EducationWeek suggests that districts take these seven steps:
- Take mental health issues out of the closet and talk about problems openly.
- Find resources to help the team spot early warning signals that staff is struggling.
- Place a higher priority on protecting the staff’s emotional and mental health.
- Create support systems that provide ongoing virtual or in-person support—individually or in a group setting.
- Adapts teaching and administrative responsibilities to meet the emotional needs of a team member.
- Recognize employees face different sets of challenges and levels of stress. For example, LGBTQ and other groups are more likely to face wellness issues.
- Reduce barriers to getting services by promoting and making it easier to access benefits offered by employee assistance and health insurance programs.
Support the Wellness of Your Educational Team - The mental and emotional health of educators is being tested like never before. New teaching pressures and challenges call for districts to take action that supports the wellness of their teams. Providing trauma-informed and mental health literacy training, focusing on building resilience, offering peer support, and making mental health resources accessible are proactive steps that will help your team as they face continued challenges.