Government decisions made during Covid-19 resulted in the closure of many schools, forcing teachers to move online to ensure that students continued their studies.
Described as ‘emergency remote teaching’ (Milman, 2020), it represented a significant change in teachers’ day-to-day practice. Overnight, the nature of their work changed radically and moved into uncharted waters with no guidelines or protocols. There was no time, no consultation and no choice. It involved rapid learning of new technologies, restructuring roles and the formation of new identities (Poulton & Yoo, 2020) with no indication of how long the closures would last. Prior to the pandemic, teachers were already reporting poor mental health, depression, anxiety and stress, and according to Education Support’s most recent Teacher Wellbeing Index (2020), stress and anxiety levels increased during the pandemic when teachers were working online. Many considered quitting, citing lack of support for mental health issues as the main reason.
Now schools have reopened and teachers have returned to the classroom. Just as they had no control over school closures, teachers had no control over school reopenings, and there was a great deal of uncertainty around the whole process. Uncertainty is one of the primary sources of stress, and along with lack of control can lead to learned helplessness and feelings of inadequacy (Heylighen, 2000; Wisse & Sleebos, 2016).
Teachers returned to familiar territory only to find that the rules had changed, meaning they had to restructure their roles again to follow the government’s guidelines. They also have had to confront the impact of home schooling on student learning and the results of some families’ inability to home school successfully (Courtney et al., 2020), with many parents ill-equipped to support their children at home (Burke, 2021; Lalli et al., 2020).
‘Teachers returned to familiar territory only to find that the rules had changed, meaning they had to restructure their roles again to follow the government’s guidelines.’
For some children, being at home has been stressful and traumatic as they were placed at risk of harm due to vulnerable family situations. Many are known to social services and are entitled to support; however, many others are ‘invisible’, not known to social services and not entitled to support (Robinson, 2020). They rely heavily on teachers for support and for schools to be safe places.
While teachers have no control over the events associated with Covid-19, they can control how they respond. Although the UK charity Education Support stresses that government must take teachers’ mental health seriously and provide support, teachers themselves need to take responsibility for their own wellbeing and pursue ways to counteract and relieve stress. Their mental health plays a critical role in children’s wellbeing, so they must prioritise their own mental health in order to support children effectively. Just like on an aeroplane, their oxygen mask goes on first! It helps to begin by remembering positives experienced during lockdown – time with family, exercise, learning new skills, kindness and a slower pace of life.
Returning to school will bring about many challenges, so compassion and kindness are needed. Feeling irritable, angry, uncertain, anxious, depressed and overwhelmed are all signs of stress. Some people cope easily with crises and setbacks because they are naturally optimistic and resilient, others have to work hard to think positively and avoid stress. Reducing stress is difficult, but recognising and acknowledging its impact on mind and body are the first steps to recovery.
The following resources provide tools to help build resilience and restore wellbeing:
Burke, O., (2021). Empowering marginalised parents to undertake home- schooling during Covid-19. https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/empowering-marginalised-parents-to-undertake-home-schooling-during-covid-19
Courtney, S. J., Armstrong, P., Gardner-McTaggart, A., Gunter, A., Hughes, B. Innes, M., & Rayner, M. (2020). Five educational myths that Covid-19 shatters. https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/five-education-myths-that-covid-19-shatters
Education Support. (2020). Teacher wellbeing index. https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/sites/default/files/teacher_wellbeing_index_2020.pdf
Heylighen, F. (2003). Change and information overload: Negative effects. Principia Cybernetica Web. http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/CHINNEG.html
Lalli, G., Defeyter, G., Shinwell, J., von Hippel, P., Henderson, E., Brownlee, Pepper, G., Daly-Smith, A., Bundy, D., & Drake, L. (2020). Covid-19: Back to school, rebuilding a better future for all children. Written evidence submitted to the inquiry: The impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services. Education Select Committee, UK Parliament. https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/3787/pdf/
Milman, N. B. (2020, March 30). This is emergency remote teaching, not just online teaching. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-this-is-emergency-remote-teaching-not-just-online-teaching/2020/03
Poulton, P., & Yoo, R. (2020). Renegotiating teacher identities: Reflections on student wellbeing and online learning during Covid-19. https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/renegotiating-teacher-identities-reflections-on-student-wellbeing-and-online-learning-during-covid-19
VanSlyke, S., Burnett, K., & Simons, A. (2020). Leadership in the Covid-19 crisis. Control Risks. https://www.controlrisks.com/our-thinking/insights/leadership-in-the-covid-crisis
Wisse, B., & Sleebos, E. (2016). When change causes stress: Effects of self-construal and change consequences. Journal of Business and Psychology, 31, 249–264. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10869-015-9411-z