The Mental Health Resources That Teachers Need

As the 2020 school year gets underway, teachers all over the world face a unique…

The Mental Health Resources That Teachers Need

As the 2020 school year gets underway, teachers all over the world face a unique set of mental health challenges. Those who have gone back to the classroom are effectively acting as frontline healthcare workers in addition to teaching, with the added stress of contracting Covid-19 and exposing their own families. Those in virtual classrooms will struggle to adapt their teaching methods and lesson plans to the new world of remote learning. And in the U.S., many are caught on the frontlines of the debate about whether or not to re-open schools.

We urgently need smart, sustained solutions to help educators secure their mental health. This should be a central element of any national or local Covid-19 re-opening and recovery plan.

Already, teacher burnout is becoming more common, and depression and anxiety rates are increasing. With an increased amount of stress and pressure from factors outside of the classroom, teachers are left feeling helpless. Headlines have begun to emerge across the U.S., from Baltimore to Colorado, as well as in The New York Times, predicting a dramatic teacher shortage.

Risks for Teachers’ Mental Health

There are a number of causes and signals of this crisis. First, teachers face an impossible choice: return to a potentially unsafe workplace, or give up their job and sense of purpose. As the President of the National Education Association (NEA), Lily Eskelsen Garcia, explained, “Educators believe they are viewed as expendable, and they feel forced to choose between their jobs or the health of themselves and their loved ones.”

A national poll indicates that one in three teachers has decided to retire rather than return to the classroom—a staggering statistic. At the same time, research from June and July 2020 finds many teachers report a sense of loss and feelings of “powerlessness” related to not being able to see students in-person or help them with the transition. And there is a strong connection between teacher burnout and student disengagement. Like students, the signs of burnout for teachers include absenteeism, fatigue, withdrawn social interactions, and changes in appearance.

Lack of work-life balance is another contributing factor. Educators have added as much as two hours to their workdays through extra one-on-one meetings with students, as well as answering phone calls and emails from parents early in the morning and late at night to accommodate the altered schedules of students and their families.

Further, many teachers work in schools that may not have the resources to safely address Covid-19. In a recent poll by NPR, 78% of teachers expressed concerns about accessing sufficient amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) and in-classroom cleaning supplies. Teachers spent an average of $450 of their own money for classroom supplies even prior to the pandemic, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, which also pointed to considerable out-of-pocket expenses for supplies related to the prevention of Covid-19.

Emerging Responses & Solutions

Just as much attention has rightly been paid to the mental health of essential frontline healthcare workers, we must consider and proactively care for the mental health of teachers. Thankfully, a number of solutions are beginning to emerge.

Organizations like the Teachers Task Force are creating resources, such as this toolkit, to help teachers understand their role in re-opening schools, find answers for common questions, and implement practical tips for returning to the classroom. These kinds of resources can also help teachers to set boundaries, understand their rights and working conditions, and achieve the kind of work-life balance that is essential for well-being.

To keep both teachers and students engaged, many U.S. districts are investing in social and emotional learning as a way to strengthen the teacher-student connection. This helps teachers feel fulfilled even as they navigate the challenges of Covid-19, so they can continue to draw on the mental health benefits of finding purpose at work.

There is also a significant opportunity to adapt resources and practices from other workplaces and organizations to meet the needs of teachers. For example, many of the tactics used by One Mind at Work member companies – such as peer support groups, resilience training, honest conversations with leadership, and access to digital mental health tools – are relatively simple solutions that could be implemented by school districts to help teachers stay mentally and emotionally strong.

No one is certain when teachers, students, and schools will be able to return to normal. But we do know that providing educators with effective mental health resources is essential for our communities, our families, and our societies in the days and months to come.