Today, we have a special guest post from Hillsborough County School Board Member Karen Perez.
Teachers and Parents- First, THANK YOU for ALL you are doing with your students at this time during our change in the face of education as the nation and Hillsborough County adjust to a “New Normal”. As Educators, whether you are a parent or a teacher, you are on the front lines of assisting our students when we have an issue with learning. Whether that issue is Math, English or understanding what is happening in our world today, the students turn to you for guidance and that turns out to be a big lift, especially when you are trying to get through these times yourselves.
When you get on a plane, the pilot and the flight attendant allow you to get really comfortable. You get your luggage in the overhead compartment; you get your family situated; and then as the plane is taxiing to the runway, they provide you with safety instructions. The safety instructions often include instructions that indicate that you are to put on your mask first before helping anyone else in an event of an emergency. That is because if you pass out you cannot help yourself, your family or anyone around you. The same holds true when you are providing a mental health check for your student daily.
Quick reminder: Feel free to feel your feelings. When you have the responsibility of checking in with your students feelings and those of your family and friends, it’s an immense pressure on you, especially since you are not mental health professionals. When everyone is working under stress, they are going to likely feel an increase in demands. Many times the pressure of this stress, whether real or imagined, is added to their stress of family’s and spouse’s or significant other’s feelings the same. And- experiencing the stress and feelings associated with care taking are by no means a sign of weakness or a reflection on you as a teacher or parent.
We all need and must intentionally employ coping skills. As teachers and parents, you must put into practice different strategies during times of stress. These can include getting enough rest, finding respite time during work or lunch, eating meals – ideally healthy food- and you have to make sure these are at a scheduled time. Engage in physical activity, like afternoon yoga, and make sure you get up to take a break from your computer along with your students and take time for meditation. Encourage your students to stay in contact with their family and friends.
Perform regular check ins with your students. Monitor your students for symptoms of depression/stress disorder. If they seem tired or the say to you they feel like something will happen, these are signs that they have feelings of hopelessness. Ask them to talk to you or, if not you, to a trusted friend. Encourage them to be open to seeking professional help if you notice that the symptoms persist or get worse over time. Many times, the students won’t ask for help on their own.
The news at this time can be less than exciting for us, so imagine how your students feel when they listen to the news. We must make it a regular habit to step away from our computers and smart phones from time to time.
Offer your students support like time to blow off steam and regain a sense of calm. You could offer to listen with no opinions or offering to fix their problems- just be a good listener.
By monitoring and reviewing your student’s wellbeing, you could help to identify any risk or emerging issues and be able to respond to their needs. Create an environment of open communication by allowing your students to speak openly about their concerns, providing mid-morning chats, addressing challenges, providing mechanisms for your students to express their concerns, ask questions and possibly put together a peer mentoring group amongst students. This demonstrates that you are creating a supportive environment for your students to communicate.
When you are speaking to your students who are stressed, it is not a time to use complicated language. PLEASE use clear understandable communication and simple language with students- particularly those students with English as a second language or physical disabilities. Remember many students’ do not solely rely on written information so, use signs and pictures when possible. When someone is stressed, the last thing they want to hear is a bunch of words that they are not able to process.
Incorporating guidance about stress into everyday conversation with your students – remember emotional distress and anxiety are common in everyday life let alone during a pandemic such as COVID-19. Normalize stress for your students and let them know that everyone feels the way they do. Teach them how to recognize the signs of distress; let them know you are feeling the same and discuss with them ways to reduce it through healthy diet, exercise, talking with friends and loved ones and meditation.
Now, this is time for you…here are some different things that you can do for yourself. You have a full plate taking care of your family and your students and now we are going to talk about how to take some time for you. Take time for yourself before starting your day, when you have some quiet time and everybody is still sleeping. Do something that you enjoy – exercise, eat breakfast, watch TV (but NOT the news), meditate/pray.
During this time, we are often so focused on what we are doing that we tend to stay 6 ft. away from everyone in our house. Give your loved ones a hug or some type of affection daily. It’s ok to let things sit– the dishes, the laundry, shoes on the floor. Give yourself a pass or permission not to do a chore or a task if it won’t cause harm to yourself or others in the home. Take care of yourself, pay attention to your health, and listen to your body. If you are exhausted, rest. Don’t forget to laugh with our students, with our friends, with our family, by ourselves, just be silly or do something funny…enjoy life.
It is completely normal to experience a range of emotions, especially right now. Accepting your feelings is not only important, but the first step to building resilience. The simple act of naming your emotion has been found to benefit wellbeing. So, take a moment right now to tune into your body and notice how you are feeling. Also, practice gratitude every day at a set time in your daily routine. Write down one thing you are grateful for. Cultivating a spirit of gratitude has a plethora of benefits, including the reduction of stress and anxiety.
Thank you so much for all you do for our students on a daily basis and especially during this “new normal”. Thank you for all you do for our students and for being a sounding board for them as they also go through this crisis. Remember take care of yourselves and each other.
Karen Perez was elected to the Hillsborough County School Board serving District 6 in 2018. She graduated with a Master’s in Social Work from University of South Florida in 2002 and went on to earn her certification in Traumatology from the University of South Florida. Since graduating, she has worked for the Department of Children and Families from 2002 – 2006 as a reunification specialist and the Department of Veterans Affairs for 15 years. Her most recent position was as Social Worker with the Home Base Primary Care. She worked with and provided services for veterans who could no longer go to the VA for their primary care appointments. In addition, for the past 20 years, she has had her own private practice, Embracing Changes Center for Wellness, LLC, where she serves clients and their families including veterans and their families.