by Letty Rising
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At the time of this writing, it is springtime in parts of the world, which often tends to be an extra-tired time for teachers. However, even if you are in the Southern Hemisphere and are entering into the fall months, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re less tired!
And also, it doesn’t take an end of the year lull for teachers to feel weary. Exhaustion and fatigue can be present for a variety of reasons and can be felt any time of the year.
The world has been a very complex and complicated place in recent years, and unless you’ve walked a mile in a teacher’s pair of shoes, it’s hard to fully grasp all of the challenges that teachers face on a daily basis. The list is growing longer as teachers are increasingly expected to take on duties that in the past were performed by parents and social service organizations.
We were all hopeful, or maybe perhaps naive, for how promising this school year felt. We are in a transitional period of time….the pandemic is not quite yet behind us, and yet nothing is as it was before. It’s a different kind of uncertain than March 2020, but yet, most of us are still walking on an unknown path.
We are still continuously being called upon to be adaptive, flexible, and resilient. But there is an energy cost of having some of our life not being on autopilot, with everything requiring problem-solving and solution generating in such a way that makes us weary.
Long Haul Emotional Covid
If we go to the way back machine, some of you may have read a blog post I wrote a while back for Trillium, with my friend and colleague Elizabeth Slade, discussing in detail the stages of disaster. I believe at the time of the writing of that article, we were somewhere between the honeymoon phase and the disillusionment phase.
This was written over a year ago, and if you look carefully at the graphic and think about where we are right now, we are still, very much in the disillusionment phase. Why have we been stuck there so long?
Well, see those arrows at the bottom that show “triggering events?” These events can prolong the disillusionment phase. When Covid receded, it was replaced with Delta, then Omicron. It was kind of like trying to take a boat out to sea, then having waves continually crash at your boat, pushing you back to shore.
In our striving to get to the reconstruction phase, we keep being propelled back into disillusionment. And it’s important to note that graphics can often be simplistic representations of a much more nuanced situation. Although we can see the jagged peaks and valleys in this graphic, if not careful, this could be interpreted as continuous forward movement.
However, what we don’t see here is the zig-zag forward and backward movement. Sometimes 2 steps forward and one back, sometimes 6 steps forward and 2 back, sometimes one step forward and 5 back. Many of your school communities have flirted with reconstruction several times, only to be cast back into disillusionment. Or maybe there are parts of your community that are reconstructing while others are in disillusionment. Any and all of the above can be true.
You’ve heard of Long-Haul Covid. However, you may not have considered the long-haul emotional effects of Covid. While you may have been spared from long-term physical effects, hardly any of us have been spared of long-term emotional fallout. These symptoms can include stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, and loneliness. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can worsen. Insomnia might be a regular companion, and healthy nutrition and exercise might have flown out the window.
You might be thinking…my goodness, it’s been two years, why am I not over this by now? Well for those of you who have ever lost someone to death, or divorce, you know that the effects sometimes don’t hit you until much later, when in fact everything on the surface might seem better, and yet the grief often remains much longer than you wish.
Experiencing long-haul emotional Covid lends itself to an unbalanced mental health state that can be debilitating, and yet the casual observer might have to reach deeply to find empathy for a condition that may not have any observable physical symptoms.
There has been a big world event that is affecting everyone’s lives
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is still early. We don’t know what the impact will be, both abroad and at home.
Maria Montessori had a lot to say about war, and in fact, many of her publications mention the challenges of war. She in fact lived through both world wars, various revolutions, as well as Fascist and Totalitarian governments. Dr. Montessori dedicated her whole life to education and children to bring about a more peaceful future.
As a friend and colleague of mine, Margaret Whitley mentioned the other day, “It is a sad day that 70 years after her death her fight for an education that brings about peace is still in its infancy while the people of Ukraine and the world are brought to their knees with war.”
As Maria Montessori did such a wonderful job pointing out how all of life is interconnected, we can look to the suffering of our fellow humans abroad, and feel empathy for the suffering that they endure. The work of empathy is not passive work, it is active work, and there’s often no rest for the weary.
There is often a misalignment between what students, teachers, and school leaders need, and what they are expected to do.
Now that everyone is back into the swing of things, the time is ticking for us to not only “get over” the past couple of years, and learn to deal with the news we hear from around the world, but time is also ticking to “make up for lost time,” when it comes to perceived learning loss. What educators often got instead of tangible support, were additional mandates and directives regarding what they need to do better and faster, and an implicit expectation to erase the past 2 years and pretend as if they did not exist.
However, educators have expressed a longing for something entirely different, something that very few likely got. And that is, space and time to focus on the mental, social, and emotional well-being of the community before having to address academic milestones.
Helping their students regain emotional fluency, executive functioning, and social adeptness is what teachers wish they had more time to do. A lot of these things develop naturally through chosen work with others, and through play…two things that were in short supply for a significant length of time. The 2 years of uncertainty, combined with rapid pivoting and adapting, all the while not having the time or opportunity to address the non-academic needs of their students, has caused many a teacher to wave the white flag of surrender.
What can we do?
There has been lots of pushback on the idea of “self-care,” because although on the surface it seems a genuine solution, it can also put the onus on the teacher to make things better for themselves without taking into consideration other obstacles that are societal and/or systemic in nature.
However, as with many things, it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. We can continue to strive to make the school setting a better place for educators, while also recognizing that desiring systemic change should not be used as a reason to avoid engaging in acts of self-care.
Taking responsibility to care for ourselves to the best of our ability helps us joyfully show up to this work. Tending to our mind, body, and spirit is essential because emotional long haul Covid can be as weary on the soul as physical long haul covid can be on the body.
And just as some people are more susceptible to developing physical symptoms from Covid, some are more susceptible to the emotional fallout of having been in a pandemic. So take care of yourself with rest, sleep, food, movement, creativity, and time with loved ones.
It’s hard to imagine that one teacher, or even a group of teachers, can change the entire system. However, if you have an idea of how your workplace can be better, it is always worth asking! Engaging in respectful dialogue, asking questions like “Is there another way?” can help advance initiatives that can be beneficial for entire school communities.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you might be a tired teacher. It’s okay to be tired. The emotional long-haul effects of Covid are going to last for many of us, for a long time to come.
It may be months, or even years after the pandemic ends, that we are still feeling its effects. And combine this with navigating the current world events and disruptions overseas, the effects are bound to last even longer. Take action where you can, whether it be in your personal life or through areas where you can affect social and societal change.
And also, giving yourself the time and space to rest and rejuvenate where you can, so that you don’t lose yourself in the shuffle of life, and find yourself untethered without an anchor. Our anchors are the things that ground us when life is challenging…identify your anchors, whether it be hiking, painting, journaling, or long hot showers, these go-to’s will help you weather the effects of long-haul emotional Covid.
Letty Rising has been involved in Montessori education for over 15 years. She holds a B.A. in Sociology, a California State Teaching Credential, and an AMI elementary diploma for ages 6-12 and an M.Ed from Loyola University in Maryland. She has held positions as a Homeschool Education Specialist, Montessori Elementary Teacher, School Director, Principal, Montessori Coordinator, and Consultant in several public and private Montessori school communities throughout the years. Letty currently supports schools around the world through professional development offerings, consulting, and mentoring.