Some may perceive the education system prioritizing the well-being of their students over their staff. Recently, mental health has become a popular issue within the teaching community. The UCL Institute of Education reported one in 20 teachers, or nearly 5 percent, experienced mental illnesses that lasted over a year. Unhealthy work environments, increased workloads, unruly students, or difficult parents add to the burdens of educators. Although the awareness of teachers’ mental health is growing, there is still more that must be done to better support those on the front lines who equip our students.
Why Mental Health Is Important for Teachers
Maintaining good mental health is important for all professions. However, those in careers that involve caregiving, such as teachers, tend to focus on serving others rather than themselves. According to the Association of California School Administrators, about 40 percent of teachers claim they feel high amounts of stress daily during the school year. The most common causes of high stress in the classroom are behavioral issues, pressures for students to succeed during standardized tests, and the lack of resources. If left unaddressed, these problems may lead to irreparable damage in teachers’ mental and physical health and high turnover rates.
According to a study by the Learning Policy Institute published in 2017, the turnover rate for teachers is roughly 16 percent. To bolster our educators, mental health and self-care awareness must be incorporated into academia.
Mental Health Tips for Schools
Provide Teachers with Resources
Many teachers who work in urban schools with high poverty rates tend to lack the necessary resources for sufficient student learning and personal self-care. Some teachers must pay out-of-pocket for everyday items, such as hand sanitizers, tissues, and dry erase markers. Moreover, educators restrict the number of photocopies made per semester. Teachers who earn lower salaries may possess financial burdens by supplementing their districts’ lack of resources. The education system must find a better solution to prioritize their teachers’ needs. This can be accomplished through increased funding by their superintendent or board of governments. Local fundraisers or charity events may also help raise money for their communities.
Provide Opportunities for Teacher Support Groups
When they’re not provided with support, teaching can feel lonely. No matter the profession, it’s best to create support groups for staff as a safe place to address problems and seek advice. Because speaking with someone who has been in a similar situation can ease the stress of one’s mental health, schools should encourage teachers to join support groups and develop healthy relationships outside of work.
Promote Mental Wellness
Teachers are asked to help students cope with their mental health, but educators are often neglected. Making mental health resources more accessible removes the stigma of mental illness for teachers who may be in need of help. Schools should partner with local mental health organizations and host workshops to instruct educators on beneficial self-care tips. Providing staff with an open-door policy between teachers and their administrative staff and principals also fosters trust and communication.
Mental Health Tips for Teachers
Establish Work-Life Balance
Although it may be tempting to continue prepping lessons or grading assignments past office hours, it may cause you to feel emotionally fatigued. It’s helpful to set an alarm on your phone prompting when to finish your school day—and stick to it. Once you’re off-campus or offline, try your best to leave your work at work or on a closed computer for the remainder of the day.
To help you shift your mindset, create an end-of-day ritual to help remove your “teacher hat.” Something as simple as changing your clothes at home can immediately make you feel more relaxed. Other ideas may be spending time with your friends or family or taking an afternoon walk. It’s easier if you limit the amount of school work that you bring home or continue after hours. As more schools are adopting remote learning, it’s essential to establish boundaries to protect your work and home hours.
Ensure Good Sleeping Habits
Maintaining a healthy psychological and physical well-being requires quality sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause anxiety, depression, and even a short temper. Sleep requirements vary, but most people need seven or more hours of rest per night. Develop a bedtime routine of turning off electronics, reading a book or magazine, taking a warm bath, or planning the weekly agenda. Monitoring your sleep quality utilizing a sleep tracking app will give ample insights on how to develop better sleeping habits.
Students aren’t the only ones that should be learning. As a teacher, you could always be enhancing your skills to reach your professional goals. From in-person conferences to free digital workshops, there are opportunities available for teachers to proactively learn the latest innovations, establish a network of mentors, and boost your self-confidence. For example, discovering new teaching styles to incorporate in the classroom can positively affect your mental health.
One of the challenges for educators is being mostly sedentary—sitting at a desk or in front of a computer most of the day. Because the work of an educator (other than P.E. teachers) requires little movement, physical activity is important to include outside of your work hours. A study by The Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that “exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.” For example, running releases endorphins to make one feel better about themself. It takes merely a half hour of moderate exercise five days per week to encourage one’s mental health. To get started, schedule a 10- or 15-minute jog before work and after work.
It’s no secret that teachers feel overworked and underappreciated. Based on a 2016 study, 67 percent of teachers claim their profession negatively impacted their physical or mental health. We can only imagine this number increasing amid a pandemic. To support educators, schools should allocate funds to highlight the importance of their teachers’ mental health. Furthermore, teachers must proactively develop a healthy work-life balance and develop their skills outside of the classroom.
Read more about mental health on our blog.