by Andrea Chavez-Kopp
The start to the school year is always one filled with excitement and the adrenaline rush from the scent of freshly sharpened pencils, newly decorated rooms and the flurry of back-to-school activities. Parents, students, teachers and administrators have now had a chance to settle in. I caught myself off guard yesterday as I looked at my calendar and realized despite all the work that has been put in, it is only mid-September!
Sure, burnout comes around every school year, but normally those holiday reprieves are enough and the toughest part of the year is that stretch between spring break and the last day of school. I belong to a lot of educator groups and I see many already expressing feeling exhausted, despite being very early in the school year. I also attended open house at my kids’ school and multiple teachers apologized for not having everything quite right yet, or for starting off slower this year.
This is all observational and anecdotal evidence, but it stood out to me. I wanted to take a minute and talk about WHY we are already tired in September and what we can do about it.
Pandemic exhaustion is real. We are tired of worrying, tired of guessing what the right thing to do is, tired of people fighting. We are also acutely aware that our hopes of a post-pandemic school year are not happening this year. It is perfectly normal to feel run down just by the circumstances around us and gearing up to teach takes an incredible amount of energy.
Worrying takes an emotional toll. We are worried about keeping kids healthy and balancing their mental health. We are worried about our personal lives, friends and families. We are worried about protests, anger and making mistakes. We are worried about having to close schools again. We are worried about being effective and how we will be evaluated by administration, parents and peers.
There is a long way to go. It feels like school has been in session much longer than it has and looking at the whole of the calendar right now might feel overwhelming when you are just trying to get through the week. Here are some things you can do to help fight that feeling in this new mid-September slump people may be feeling:
Be upfront with administration, students and parents in knowing what to expect and when. If you are only going to post grades once a week, just say that. If you only answer emails from 4-6, put that information right out there and respect the boundaries you set for yourself. It is hard to say no or to “turn off” but make a practice of doing so. You deserve some time off to be with your own family, do something to relax or catch up on rest.
Please take your sick days. I don’t think I have ever used all my sick days. I feel guilty when I do and resentful of others when they are out too often. Let that mindset go and take a day when you need it, even if it’s just a mental health day. With so much technology in the classroom, use all you learned about remote teaching to set up some sub plans ahead of time with enrichment activities so you don’t have to stress about last minute planning.
You don’t have to do everything you did in years past. It is a rebuilding year in many ways. Give yourself the same advice you would give a student mastering something. Take one step at a time. Cut down on the number of moving parts as much as you can and try to streamline and simplify your classroom procedures, grading, communications and activities.
Put information in multiple places so staff and families have easy access to it, feel informed and avoid feeling frustrated or in the dark. Make it easy to find. Make it almost difficult for someone to not know what is going on. Transparency and consistency help build trust and reduce conflict caused by misunderstandings.
Is there anything you can stop doing this year? We are always piling on new initiatives, ideas and tasks and the pandemic has been no exception. Is there anything that we can set aside this year that isn’t absolutely necessary? When adding new things do we ask, what can we subtract?
Being a principal or administrator can feel incredibly lonely at times. Seek out others in similar positions for support and advice. Connect with colleagues whom you can bounce ideas off of, talk confidentially about leadership challenges or just socialize with. Knowing you are not in it alone can make a big difference.
Assume Good Intentions
If you are feeling overwhelmed and frustrated with your child’s school, take a moment to realize that nobody gets into education for fortune or fame, they do it because they care about kids. Even if things are not going right, know that the school wants success for your child and for you to be happy. You are all on the same team.
Empower Your Child
With all the adults feeling overwhelmed, it may be time to intentionally help your child develop some self-sufficiency. Encourage your child to know for themselves what deadlines are coming up, which are supplies or needed or what the homework is. Instead of defaulting to checking up on their student LMS, have them routinely explain to you what they are working on. If they have questions, encourage them to seek help before you get involved.
Ask Questions to Avoid Frustration Build Up
Nobody likes to be the parent who is always sending emails, but repeatedly feeling left out of the loop or like you are guessing what is going on can be stressful. Over time, that stress can get to a boiling point. If you find yourself consistently struggling with a teacher, take some time early in the year for a phone call or to meet and get all of your questions answered. Remember Matthew 18:15-20. Avoid going over someone’s head to complain without first attempting to reconcile with them directly.
Don’t forget the power of prayer in difficult situations, not only to give you emotional strength, but also for the mental health benefits and quiet time it allows you. If you do find yourself in a difficult situation, praying together can often help diffuse it. Invite the Holy Spirit into your work, your worry and your life.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20