According to a recent RAND Corporation Research Report, the stress of teaching is one of the top reasons for teacher turnover, and this fact remains true regardless of teachers who quit before the pandemic or during. Along with the stressors inside the classroom, teachers face long work-weeks! The same study noted that teachers worked an average of 49 hours in a typical week, pre-pandemic. But once the pandemic hit, that number spiked to 52-56 hours per week! And let’s not even talk about sleep. Among the teachers surveyed in the study, an overwhelming 83% of teachers reported sleeping less than the medically recommended 8 hours a night. And sadly, these sleep problems only exacerbate anxiety and depression among teachers.
Suffice it to say, teachers have it rough. So in support of teachers and educators around the world, we’d like to share some of Mathspace’s top tips for mental health and well being!
Tip #1: Build a reliable teacher support system
While the responsibility of a classroom’s success falls squarely on a teacher’s shoulders, they are not alone! Even within your own school, university, community, and social networks, there are other teachers out there going through similar challenges and tribulations.
“Find a support system with other teachers who have gone through the same things you have”, recommends Jonathan Templin, former 7th grade math teacher and now a Mathspace EdTech Consultant and Content Creator. “Don’t feel like you have to go through the stresses of teaching alone.”
Victoria Lowery, who taught Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 at the high school level, shares that the best source of support and knowledge while she was teaching was her own colleagues. “If you're struggling with a certain student behavior or you're struggling to figure out how to teach a certain lesson chances are there's someone in your school who has experienced it before. So instead of trying to struggle through it on your own, utilize your colleagues and reach out and support them when they need it.”
Tip #2: Observe working hours but respect off hours
Many underestimate just how long a teacher’s day really is. After all, teachers only work in the classroom or at the school from morning bell to afternoon bell, right? We all know that couldn’t be farther from the truth. According to Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, teachers work nearly 11 hours a day, not including any work done on the weekends! With something always needing to be done, it is vital that teachers and educators set clear boundaries between what is a working hour, and what is not.
Katie Walsh, who taught students from Kindergarten to grade 12, urges teachers to prioritize mental health and well being without feeling guilty or selfish. She notes, “There’s a strong culture of ‘sacrifice, service, never take a sub day’. I’ve learned how unhealthy that is. If you prioritize your well being, you can teach your students to prioritize theirs, as well.”
“Many teachers arrive early to work, work late many days, or work on the weekends.” shares Elisha Templin, a Curriculum and Content Developer for Mathspace who taught students in grades 7 - 12. “It’s important to take time for ourselves, so setting hours, such as when to check and respond to emails after school, is important.”
In fact, one Mathspace educator recommends not doing any work during lunch breaks. “Eat, enjoy food, talk about non-work stuff with fellow teachers. Actively relax and take some breaths.” advises Daniel O’Kane. As a former math educator who taught students at the university level, he knows just how easy it can be to just stay “switched on” and keep working through scheduled breaks. “Sometimes that is OK, but I recommend taking complete breaks at lunchtime.”, he adds.
Tip #3: Stay Active!
We all know that staying active is important for our physical well-being. But did you know it can also do wonders for your mental-emotional health as well? The World Health Organization reports that physical activity can help prevent hypertension and reduce instances of anxiety and depression. But with fully-packed schedules both inside and out of the classroom, what can teachers do?
To start, Katie Walsh reminds teachers that “You’re doing the best you can. Get outside, let nature and fresh air change your brain chemistry; take a walk to clear your head as often as possible.”
Joanna Kyprianou - a Mathspace Curriculum Developer and former teacher of 7 - 12 year students - echoed Katie’s idea, sharing that she would go for walks with colleagues to grab a coffee. “Just stepping out of the school for a minute helped.”
Elisha Templin also recommends scheduling times to be active with co-workers and friends. “It’s harder to cancel, and this makes me take breaks to continue my passion for running and to decompress.”
Daniel O’Kane also agrees, advising that “The key is to have a planned routine around maintaining mental wellbeing, versus only meditating/exercising when one is stressed or anxious.”
Between our busy lives and our dedication to see our students thrive, it’s easy to get caught in the current and let things float by unaddressed. So we hope these tips can provide you with a starting point towards improving your own well-being. After all, you have to care for yourself, before you can truly tend to anything and anyone else.
What are your favorite well-being tips? We’d love for you to share!