: Teaching online – how to support a virtual educator’s mental health
Teaching online can be challenging especially if one has never done it before. It may not seem so easy to get things right when you are on your own, without face-to-face communication in a physical environment. But once you overcome the initial barrier of stepping into the new environment and choose the right tools, it’s more likely to turn into a pleasant, efficient and satisfying experience
Teaching is considered one of the most stressful jobs, and this data is valid. The professional activity of a teacher is never limited to the timeframe of the classes they have. According to a survey from 2021 in the United States more than 75% of teachers reported job related stress compared to 40% of adults from other professions. To add to this fact, around 27% of teachers showed symptoms of depression, compared to 10% of other adults. This was enhanced by the global pandemic situation but the tendency mentioned is not as new as it seems.
Let’s have a look at the most often cited challenges virtual educators face. Among the largely reported difficulties that teachers experience are:
- Neophobia, followed by technophobia
- Work organization and time management
- Lesson planning and preparation
- Lack of visible body language
- Technology shortage and connectivity
- Computer literacy
- Students’ attention and motivation
- Handling larger groups of students
- Keeping track of students’ progress
- Interaction between students
- Communication with colleagues
- Lack of feedback
- Work-life balance
With so much to manage at a time, no wonder that an educator’s mental health would inevitably be impacted. The pandemic shone light on most of the demands of teaching, but it also highlighted some solutions. So whatever you are struggling with, know that you are not alone. There is a way to keep it all up with a few useful tips.
Plan and manage time
Teaching online should save time usually spent in travelling to and back from the workplace. This time can be invested in other activities for professional or personal development. Some online education platforms save time with lesson preparation features – managing content, activities and schedules. This provides ease and comfort of starting the class without any hurry or hassle. Predefining and preorganizing your classes will let you keep time for breaks instead of using it for preparation. Teaching online gives a lot of freedom but in order to navigate through the day stress-free, you should be disciplined enough not only when it comes to classes but also to the breaks.
Accept the change, or even better – initiate it
Teaching online requires a change in the usual workflow, more precisely – specific adapting mechanisms. Quite often this change comes from outside, so you’d better accept that there will be certain things in your teaching style and methods that could be a bit compromised in the beginning. You may not be able to provide a perfect lesson at times, but it is important to accept the limitations and try to find solutions and workarounds. Taking steps towards the change will help you move away from negativity and cope with any challenges that arise.
It’s no secret that regular exercise and physical activity not only helps in reducing stress but it also makes our body produce the so-called happy hormones. The best option would be to take some time out for a short walk outside or a gym workout. No matter what you decide to do, even if it is just a little bit of exercise and stretching at home, it is important to get your blood pumping and give yourself a break from the screen. Getting yourself to move is a real challenge, indeed, because online educators are often in a situation where they work alone. Therefore, no colleagues come around to interrupt you or stimulate you to take a break. It is a matter of discipline to get engaged in physical activities during breaks. It pays off with better sleep, sharper memory, higher productivity and feeling more positive about yourself.
Find your balance
Work-life balance is something that becomes elusive when you start working mostly online and from home. So in order to keep your mental health, two things can be done. First, set clear physical boundaries between your working space and the space you usually relax. And second, choose long days with extra work and free days. This division has two benefits – clarity brings peace of mind by structuring and classifying activities, and it boosts your productivity without causing you stress.
Teaching online lets you develop new skills
COVID brought us quickly to the hybrid world of teaching – a change that was going to happen anyway but at a much slower pace. As we mentioned, one of the challenges for online teachers is neophobia, resulting in technophobia. If you look at this as an opportunity, proficiency in new technology could make your life much easier in the long term. Remote technology is a valuable tool in your toolkit, not just for teaching but for different type of online activities, especially if you use an interactive online whiteboard. And if you suddenly had to shift to teaching online, the sooner you start getting in pace technologically, the calmer you will feel during classes.
Pay attention to the signs of your body
Increased screen time and the lack of activity can initially cause unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms. It is a normal transition period till you get comfortable with teaching online, but it might be harmful when symptoms are not addressed. Headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, lack of motivation, digestive problems and anxiety are not to be overlooked. If you notice it’s getting out of hand, you definitely need to seek help or stay connected with a community of colleagues.
Last, but not least, choosing the right technology and means of online teaching is essential for the efficiency and smoothness of your teaching process and consequently to the way you feel both mentally and physically during and at the end of the day. Choose wisely – a platform that provides you with the proper functionalities to manage your classes (an online whiteboard is essential), naturally interact with students and have control over their behavior. If online teaching is new to you, it may seem very intimidating in the beginning, but with a bit of an effort and the right tools, you can ensure maximum performance and stress-free environment.