COVID-19 & Teacher Trauma
Caring for Educators is the First Step in Serving Students
With studies showing that teachers are more stressed than soldiers returning from battle, now is the time to focus on their mental and emotional health.
- By Kevin E. Baird
Dr. John Hattie, whose work on “visible
draws from one of the largest sets of research data ever assembled,
asks the simple question, “What makes the biggest difference in
educational outcomes?” Year after year, the findings are the same.
Teachers’ self-confidence ranks at the very top of the
highest-impact factors for learning.
idea for a book I co-wrote, Whole:
What Teachers Need to Help Students Thrive,
began with a provocative finding: teachers
are the fourth-most
stressed occupation in the United States. According to Gallup,
more than one
in 10 teachers are desperate to leave the profession, and more than
half of all educators are not fully engaged in their work.
my fellow authors and I visited schools in neighborhoods blighted by
poverty and hopelessness (a sort of “urban battlefield”) we found
one central, common factor across schools that were succeeding
despite their local environment: a priority of caring for the mental
well-being of their educators. Successful student learning outcomes
began with caring about teachers, prioritizing their mental health
and feeding their combined self-confidence.
then there was COVID-19. Confined to working from home, with existing
lesson plans no longer adequate, challenged to quickly learn new
technologies and removed from students themselves, the American
teacher corps is experiencing the single most traumatic and
transformative event of the modern era. What are the mental health
we must honor that our educators are experiencing just as much
anxiety and stress as many of our students.
they are part of an aging demographic, we can expect some of our
colleagues will not return this fall, taken from us by COVID-19. A
greater number will be impacted by the loss of a loved one, by the
emotional hardships of social confinement and by the increased
anxiety caused by economic uncertainty for their family. We cannot
expect educators to return to us this fall without mental and
emotional needs resulting from their grief, their economic anxiety,
and their personal loss.
schools begin with great leaders. The mental health, positive outlook
and self-confidence of our school leaders are equally important. What
is true for teachers is also true for our leadership. They will need
care and support.
are quickly beginning to find solutions to the immediate problems of
self-care, vigilant observation of student risk factors, and
effective crisis teaching. My co-author Michelle Kinder and I have
collected a set of key “nudges” to prioritize in our daily
conversations with our colleagues.
a routine in your day, get dressed professionally, and put on your
“teacher persona.” While sweatpants are inviting, our mental
health is impacted by our routine and our costume, as is our
self-confidence and positive outlook. That said, sleeping a bit
later (no need to commute!) can help energize and ignite your
of passion, now is the time to escape the weariness of mandated
curriculum and engage your creative mind and curious self. Consider
the skills you want your students to learn, connect those skills to
an area of study or topic that interests you, and let your own
passion ignite that of your students. Excitement, curiosity,
interest, and engagement can be communicated via a webcam and
of webcams, please use one. Ask your students to do the same, if
possible. More than 90 percent
of communication happens non-verbally. We are not fully engaged in
teaching and learning if we cannot see each other.
be mindful of alcohol intake, and take time for daily reflection.
Embracing that each of us is hurting, and giving ourselves
permission to grieve our lost routines and joys, are the first steps
learning bite-sized, assume it will take students two to three times
longer to learn a skill, and honor that we’re not engaged in
distance learning—we’re engaged in crisis teaching. Check in
daily with students about their feelings and emotions. Minds follow
hearts. Care about the kids before you concern yourself with tests,
grades, and other outcomes.
plan now for a transformed school environment. Flexible classrooms
to allow physical distance, professional development focused on
teacher-student relationships and trauma informed teaching, and
strategies for measuring student learning readiness are urgent next
lesson we learned in researching our book is simple: Educators’
mental and emotional health is the foundation of effective teaching
and learning. Today, teachers’ self-confidence is diminished due to
high levels of occupational stress. In a COVID-19 world, caring for
our educators is an area of urgent priority.
E. Baird serves as chairman at the non-profit Center for College &
Career Readiness. He is a recognized leader in the application of
technology for accelerated human learning and development. He
provides free tools for schools at Habitat4Heroes.org.