By Julie Diamond
If you are a teacher in Ontario, Alberta, Newfoundland or Saskatchewan, you still have another month or so until Spring Break which may seem like light years away. With the hectic school year, switching from in-class to online, wearing PPE all day, along with all the other changes, teacher burnout may seem inevitable. Here are some tips that, while they may seem like no-brainers, serve as gentle reminders to reflect, and reset.
1. Eat Healthy & Exercise: You are always on the go, especially if you teach primary, so you need snacks that you can eat quickly and possibly with one hand. Some healthy options include air-popped popcorn (sprinkled with nutritional yeast), veggies and hummus, dried fruit & dip (mix yogurt with dry JELL-O mix), and pickles (if you are craving something salty). One thing I have really gotten into (on those busy days for lunch or as a late-night snack) are smoothies. I like to try different varieties using different things like spinach, apples, frozen fruit, hemp and chia seeds, Greek yogurt, along with protein powder or nut butter so it acts as a meal replacement high in protein.
As far as exercise, that may be exceptionally challenging to incorporate into your daily routine. If you can not seem to find the time to make it to the gym, or if the gyms are still closed where you live, here are some ideas for at home or, dare I say, in between classes. I bought a jump rope and on breaks I will skip for 2-3 minutes about 3 times a day. If you can manage that in between classes or marking at home, 10 minutes of jumping rope is equivalent to 30 minutes on the treadmill. It is a time saver and also super fun! Or, if you are looking for an option with less impact, try 20 squats after each bathroom break. Whenever you do not have the time to do the squats, you can keep track and catch up when you do.
2. Make Time to Unwind: How do you unwind? Whether it is with a book, tv, or hanging with the family, make sure you make time for it every day. Catch up with a friend over video or sit down for dinner with your family. Maintaining this balance between work and down time will keep you happy and ready to take on the workday.
3. Focus on the Positive & What You Have Done Well: This may have been a frustrating school year with all the changes and new things to learn and/or implement so it may be easy to spiral. Buddy up with another colleague or teacher, or even a non-work-related friend/family member, to keep each other in check. When either of you are speaking negatively, the other gives a gentle reminder to focus to the positive. It may be easy to think of all that has gone wrong this year, but for your sanity, shift gears and reflect on what you have done well. When you think positively, it makes the busy school days a lot more manageable.
4. Know When to Ask for Help: Whether you are teacher in their first or twentieth year, this school year is completely different, and you may be feeling stressed from learning new technology to mental exhaustion from being online and/or in class. You are NOT alone. Check in with yourself or your colleagues and know when to ask for help and/or recognize if a colleague needs your help. Teaching may feel really isolating being alone in the classroom, or this year online, so open the door to communication with other teachers to share lesson ideas or simply to vent. If that outlet is not available to you, talk to your partner, friend, or family member.
5. Prepare Ahead (With Flexibility): Procrastination during a school year like this one is only going to create unnecessary stress for you. Though preparing too far in advance may also be frustrating given all the last-minute changes with COVID. This past year has taught us to be flexible. Create your plans with lots of room for changes and ability to adapt to online (if needed).
6. (If Possible) Leave Work at School: If you find yourself taking your schoolwork home with you and then struggle to disconnect at the end of the evening, try keeping your work at school. Go in earlier or stay later (if that is a possibility) to finish and create that mental separation from work.
How are YOU managing this school year? What did we miss? What helps you prevent teacher burnout? Comment below.
By Julie Diamond
**Reposted from January 24 2020 and updated**
February is the time of year when you get your child’s report card. You may also get the opportunity for a parent-teacher interview to discuss or ask any questions. It’s important to take the time to review the report card with your child. The report card is a great resource to reflect on your child’s achievements and areas to work on. Here are some suggestions to make it a positive and effective experience:
1. Review it independently. Read the comments and make notes of the successes and areas of improvement. Planning what you want to discuss with your child beforehand makes for a more productive and positive discussion. Keep in mind that every year is different, and some grades/subjects are generally more challenging than others.
2. Read the report card with your child. Ask them about their thoughts. Listen to what they have to say because they will have valuable insight. Celebrate their successes and keep the conversation positive. Don’t compare your child with another friend or family member. It’s important to remember that every child learns and performs differently.
3. Discuss learning and/or IEP needs (if applicable): If your child is on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and receiving accommodations or modifications, it is also a good time to discuss if they feel supported in class, if they are getting their extra time, etc. For children ages 12+, encourage them (with small steps) to communicate their needs to their teacher. They may be skeptical to do that in front of their peers, which is completely understandable. If this is the case, then try to keep the communication open between you and your child so they can feel comfortable to come to you with ideas of how to troubleshoot any issues with their learning and/or IEP needs on their own and/or with your support.
4. Make a plan for success on the next report card. Together with your child, identify areas or subjects that could use improvement. Then create goals and steps to achieve each one along with how you will provide support. Write them down to provide a visual. If there are subjects that are out of your comfort zone or realm of expertise, tell your child and discuss the possibility of getting other support from a tutor, other family member or friend.
5. Communicate and track your child’s progress. If you choose to go to the parent-teacher interview, ask your child for their input and follow up with them about the discussion. Share your child’s goals with their teacher as well. As the new semester progresses, set aside time to check in and have daily discussions with your child. Refrain from asking yes/no questions such as: Do you have homework? Instead ask questions like: What was the best part of your day? What was the hardest thing you had to do today? Can you show me something you learned today? What is something you’re going to review tonight?
6. Keep things light. Try to focus more on progress versus grades this school year. It has been a rough year for everyone, but especially for children. Praise your child when you see them working hard on an assignment, when they ask for help or when they express their frustations and keep going. They are showing grit, determination and expressing their feelings - all traits that are helpful to get through challenging times.
Julie Diamond is a certified teacher in Canada and the founder of Teachers to Go.
Julie Diamond speaking at the OISE conference for Alternative, Innovative and Inspiring Career Paths for Teachers at the University of Toronto.
Jenna Srigley is the administrative assistant/social media co-ordinator at Teachers to Go and offers invaluable insight as a mom of 2 teens.
Fun Fact: Her and Julie (see above) are also sisters :)