For me, teaching online since March has really taken a toll on my enjoyment and the fulfillment I usually get from teaching. I remember when we were first shut down and asked to stay home for at least 2 weeks, I was thankful for the break, but still excited to return after spring break. After I realized that we were not going to be saying goodbye to our students in person and head into the summer, I was devastated.
Since then, I have gone through what I consider different stages of grief that eventually led to acceptance. I accepted that teaching is not what it used to be and I've accepted that looking forward at what I can do to make it enjoyable for my students as well as myself will look very different than what I am used to.
I know you have heard this before, but it's important to repeat. Happiness is a state of mind. IF we can control our mindset, we can control how we feel (to an extent). So what can we do to find FULFILLMENT in teaching while doing so online and never actually having physical contact with our students and colleagues?
Below is a short list of things I do that sometimes help me to stay positive in our very stressful, stale and fragmented teaching environment. Perhaps some of these ideas you can try and make your school year a bit more of a positive experience for everyone.
1. Remember the things you loved doing in the classroom: I absolutely love reading to my students. Whether it's a picture book or a novel, I love reading and using different voices, igniting conversation among students and sharing my love of books. This is something that I have made a priority in my online teaching. Take time to think about all the things you love about teaching and make a list. Look at that list and then look at your schedule. Is there anything from your list that you can incorporate into your online teaching?
2. It's all about the students: My entire career, I was always excited about teaching because of how fulfilling it can be, how fun it is, and how much I would learn every single day. I LOVED building relationships with my students as well as watching them connect with each other. While this is extremely difficult to do teaching online, I try to do something fun with my students each day. We have a half hour blocked off first thing in the morning, where we just connect with students and allow them to connect with others. We chat, play games, do show and tell (yes, 6th graders still love show and tell), tell stories and share pictures. You may not have a half hour to do this with kids, but if you could find even 10 minutes a day, it might help make the day more enjoyable for all.
3. Make light of it: One of the efforts I try to make each day is to find humor in the stresses. This is not always possible, but I am lucky to have colleagues that remind me to laugh when the internet has cut out for the hundredth time or I am repeating myself so much that it becomes comical. I think the best way to make light of these situations is to remember that this won't be forever and what we are doing now, is our best. Sometimes, we place major importance on things that, right now, don't matter as much. To me, the most important thing about this school year is to make sure students feel happy and healthy. Learning how to write an informational essay is just not, in my opinion, the most important thing right now. Since we are forcing students to stay inside and not physically connect with each other then our number one priority as teachers is to help and support them emotionally. By being able to laugh at our stresses, we are showing students that we should still find time to laugh during all of this madness.
4. Take advantage: Although this isn't directly related to the teaching day, I have begun to take advantage of the time home and the fact that I teach online and can do it from anywhere. This was and still is hard for me because I am someone whose home was mostly just a place to relax and lay my head. I used to hardly be home because of all the activities I was involved in and being home so often is not something I am used to. These past 9 months, I have been trying to take advantage of the fact that I am home. I started on projects, I got a puppy, I take the time to read books not related to my career in any way and I am exploring my neighborhood more and more. Also, since I am teaching online, I am able to teach from anywhere. This has allowed me to visit my family who live on the other side of the country a lot more than I ever was able to before.
5. If you don't need to meet online to discuss it, then send it in an email: With our entire day spent teaching in front of a computer, I try to avoid any and all other meetings that could otherwise be discussed on the phone or in an email. This is when a colleague may ask to "meet to discuss". I try to always suggest to talk on the phone so I can discuss and go on a walk or sit outside.
6. Get outside as much as possible: I know I say this during the winter and living in Southern California makes it easier for me, but even when I am in Pennsylvania (to visit my family) teaching, I strive to get outside for a walk at least once a day. The sunlight and fresh air is so important to our mental health. To help with this goal, I make an appointment with a good friend who is living in Missouri. We plan to walk "together" a couple times a week. We set the date and time, then we chat on the phone for our 45 minute walk together. This is motivating to both of us and since we can't visit each other, we at least get to catch up on the phone.
6th grade Humanities Teacher, Writer, Resource Creator, Curriculum and Course Developer