As coronavirus cases soar across the UK, the start of 2021 has already been a bit bumpy. With a six-week national lockdown now underway, schools and colleges are largely closed (vulnerable pupils and children of key workers are still able to attend) and face the incredible task of adapting their classroom-based teaching plans and turning them into engaging, high-quality online resources in just a blink of an eye. And that is only the tip of the iceberg: there are also assessments, among other issues, to consider.
Even for the most experienced teachers and leaders, these are stressful times, and it is extremely easy to feel overwhelmed. If you've suffered from work-related anxiety since the start of the pandemic, you are not alone.
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A few weeks ago, I felt as though I had reached my limits with all the changes imposed as a result of Covid. I was having daily panic attacks and, for the first time in my career, I started to wonder if I could cope and continue my journey as an educator. Here are some tips and advice to help you manage your anxieties during what looks likely to be a turbulent new year of teaching online.
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Have you convinced yourself that you have no idea what you should be teaching this half-term? Does your department have a scheme of work or lesson schedule you could refer to? Take a few minutes to see what is planned for the next couple of weeks. If your department does not have a schedule, make you own so that you feel prepared and confident about what you are teaching. In addition, make sure your workplace has provided you with the tools and equipment you need to teach remotely and test it regularly to ensure it works when you need it to.
Share good practice
Don't be afraid to ask your colleagues to share their lessons and resources with you. There is bound to be a colleague who will be happy to do so. After all, this is a great opportunity for them to showcase their materials and support someone in the process. Or perhaps you are worried about how to manage behaviour in an online environment? Seek some support from a colleague, mentor or manager about the strategies they use, and if this is a strength of yours, share it with those around you.
Structure your day
As educators, we have become so accustomed to carrying out certain tasks at times of the year and sticking to a strict timetable that when that structure is altered, it can feel overwhelming and lead to anxiety. If possible, try and stick to your timetable to keep your day structured and familiar. Make a to-do list to keep yourself productive outside of your teaching hours and tick off the tasks you complete for a sense of achievement.
Communication is key
If you are feeling anxious or stressed, you should try and discuss this with your line manager to see if they can reassure you or alleviate some of the pressure. For example, your manager might be able to grant you an extension on your marking deadline. Even if you are not sure what you are feeling anxious about, talking to someone is important and often helpful. If you do not feel you can approach your line manager, try approaching your mentor or a trustworthy colleague instead. Connect with other colleagues in the profession outside of your establishment to share your experiences and seek wider advice. There are lots of online teacher forums out there for you to explore.
Be kind to yourself
Your feelings are justified whatever they might be: anxiety, worry, stress... You need to remind yourself that this is a global pandemic that none of us has experienced before. Acknowledge that you are doing your best. If you are anxious before work, try getting up a bit earlier than usual to engage in mindfulness techniques or yoga. Make sure you take an hour for your lunch break and do something to clear your mind, like going for a walk. At the end of the day, be sure to unwind and relax. Try having a soak in the bath or doing some exercise.
There is only one of you, so it is vital that you look after yourself, now more than ever. Reach out to those around you for some support and remind yourself that teaching can be challenging at the best of times, even without a pandemic. If you are worried about your anxiety, speak to your employer and your GP.
Kate Watts is an FE lecturer at a college in London