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Teacher’s Lounge - Advice for Virtual Instruction: Lost My Groove

Dear Teacher’s Lounge:

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I’m having a hard time getting into the spirit of the holiday. I am so incredibly tired, and not just of the pandemic. I’m physically and emotionally tapped out. At the end of each day when I log off my Zoom classroom, I feel a crushing fatigue that is so much more extreme than anything I felt in my in-person classroom. To be honest, it will be hard to come back to the world of online teaching after a four-day screen break. How do I channel not just my gratitude, but also my energy for hanging in there?

                                                                                                                        ~Lost My Groove

Dear Groove,

In a meeting last week, I made a slight misstep. Before our work got underway, the facilitator asked us all to write something in the chat box that we were thankful for. It was a Thursday afternoon and I was in no mood for seriousness, so I immediately wrote “chocolate” into the box. Almost as soon as I pressed “Enter,” the other responses began flooding in from the 40 or so participants. They were all in a different vein than my flip answer, with serious thoughts of gratitude ranging from good health to appreciation of family and friends. Even though I felt a little sheepish for a moment, I began to reflect upon how grateful I really am for chocolate. It might seem silly, but the little things matter just as much as the big things do.

Take the mere act of gratitude, for example. Studies show that people who write in gratitude journals daily are much happier than their peers. The happiness of journal writers doesn’t stem from all the things they have that other people don’t. Rather, it is the practice of expressing thankfulness consciously and consistently that makes people approach life in general with a more positive outlook. For that reason, it might be a good time to consider incorporating our own version of a gratitude journal into daily practice by celebrating some very important elements of our jobs, even in times like these that wear us down, wear us out, and make us think about a new career path.

Being mentally fatigued puts a damper on our ability not just to be grateful, but to enjoy what we do. The other day I hopped on Zoom at eight in the morning and didn’t stop until seven in the evening. Let’s just say that my mood was not a pleasant one, and I felt bad for my family as I stomped around the kitchen looking for something to eat. But then, I put my phone away and hopped on my treadmill for a quick one-mile walk while I chatted with a friend on the phone. I pulled out my favorite crossword puzzle book and did an entire puzzle. That mental reset not only got me through the evening; it also got me into a mindset that made it possible to wake up the next day and get right back on Zoom. We all recharge differently, and I would definitely recommend figuring out what puts your mind at rest. Until you honor that process, you will likely not be eager to come back to work after the holiday weekend.

Right now, all the teachers I have spoken to think they are failing. They aren’t. None of us are doing the jobs we signed on for, and that takes an enormous toll. Another way to combat fatigue is to think about what we can still do, despite all the awfulness. For example, we spend a lot of time cursing technology. It’s difficult to teach on a screen, our computers give out on us, Zoom crashes. But can anyone imagine what teaching in a pandemic would have been like 20 years ago? Every time I envision sending home piles of books and canned worksheets for kids to do on their own without a certified teacher to help, I get the shivers. True, many kids without access are in this situation right now anyway and it is awful, but just the ability to beam in from a distance gives us something to hang on to. I try to remember that whenever I want to throw my laptop across the room. We can also build relationships, keep trying, and not give up. If we persist, even through the fatigue, we are winning. A few months ago as I launched into yet another Groundhog Day of virtual learning, I realized that if we can get through this by trying our best and accepting “good enough” instead of perfection, that is a victory in itself.

Finally, part of hanging in there has a lot to do with continuing to remind ourselves of the fact that this whole situation, while exhausting, is temporary. It is both a blessing and a curse that one of life’s constants is change. This whole Covid education experience is just plain awful, and the struggle is real. But as much as it might be hard to believe, this is not forever. Just in the past two weeks, scientific advancements with viable vaccines have made headlines, and additional therapies and treatments are in the pipeline that will make a gradual return to normal existence a reality. To make it through these next few months, remember that you are worthy, you are effective, and you are doing your best. Treat yourself well, try a gratitude journal, take those breaks as needed, and understand that the crushing fatigue is a byproduct of caring about students. This Thanksgiving, throw some gratitude right back at yourself for all the wonderful work you do. Most important, stay off that computer screen for four whole days. It will make all the difference. Happy Holidays!

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Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam is a Learning and Achievement Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has worked for nearly 20 years as an English teacher, staff developer and department chair. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and recently earned her certification in Education Administration and Supervision. She can be followed on Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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