Tips for Dealing with Overwhelm as an Educator

Education is overwhelming. Often, we are drinking from a fire hose of information, lesson, new policies, student data, and everything else. Many educators find themselves drained and feeling like they are unable to get everything done. 

Over my many years in education, and most recently after a mandatory quarantine for our child, I found myself incredibly overwhelmed. When I get overwhelmed, I shut down. However, we often don’t have the luxury of shutting down, so here are a few things I’ve done over the years to help me move past being overwhelmed and get myself right. 

Take Something OFF Your Plate

This one sounds easy, but it’s not. Most of the time, I made a list of what was taking up my battery life. The act of getting it onto paper was often a relief, and it usually had to sit for a few days while I added to it. I would write down if I were paid for doing it, if I liked doing it, and if it was a season (like AP testing). 

For example: 

  • Grading essays. It’s part of my job, so I guess I get paid for it? I hate doing it because it’s overwhelming, and it’s all the time because I assign them. 

Looking at that, how do I take it off my plate? How do I ensure students learn, meet objectives, AND get meaningful feedback without spending hours on it? That’s where this idea came from, the necessity for time and sanity. It took hours of grading off my plate and allowed me to teach writing in many different ways that ended up being better for myself and my students. 

Find sometimes to make your life easier or more enjoyable.

I used to walk on my prep hour, even if it was ten minutes. I live in Arizona. It was hot, and sometimes I had a list of things to do, but taking that ten minutes was helpful. I also started to use Notability to mark up my CED, so I always had notes on my curriculum or ideas to look at when I began planning a unit. To this day, I use that app weekly. Lastly, I played music often in class, between classes, and during my lunch period. 

Consider what needs to happen that day to make you feel successful. 

What is your success measurement? For example, for today to feel successful, I want to ensure I meet the needs of the 80 plus lawyers coming to my webinar. That’s it. The requirements are to ensure they are ready to go into classrooms and talk to students on Constitution Day. Other than that, everything else can wait. Many teachers have objectives on their board, but how does that best translate into measurement for success? Is your aim for students to write a clear and defensible thesis? What does success look like? (It does not look like every student can do it, it looks like every student has the opportunity to get feedback and grow)

Create a menu of routines for yourself and your classroom. 

Every day is different. I have a handful of morning routines that I cycle through depending on the day. Some mornings I read, work out or sleep in to give myself a small act of love. The same should be for your classroom. Have a fire drill or an unexpected interruption? What do you want that day to look like after the disruption? Make a plan beforehand, so you have it to draw from when things go wonky. Most teachers have a test day routine, so having a back pocket with other practices can be helpful. The best way to do this is to work backward from how you want the day to end to the beginning. 

I did this for assembly days. Our routine was a crazy assembly in the morning (most of my students were involved and missed class) and ended calmly. I had the overhead lights off, tiny lights on, and a light academic lift on the screen. It was a day to check in with my students, update my grade book, and catch up. Since it only happened a few times a semester, I was ok to do that and not feel like I lost a lot of time. It was also a day I graded Extra Learning Opportunities.

Lastly, just be!

Become an observer of what is happening around you and your reaction to it. Sometimes when we just let go, answers present themselves more clearly. That email, comment from a colleague, or extra stuff may not be as big as it seems. It could just be the reaction you have at the moment, which is very real but doesn’t always need to be dealt with at that moment. Maybe it doesn’t need to be dealt with at all. Being in a state of overwhelm can heighten your fight or flight in a way that it wouldn’t if you received it when you were not overwhelmed. 

I will often separate myself from situations and not deal with them until I am in a headspace. This skill has taken YEARS to develop. When I do deal with it, I do it in person or over the phone. Tone can often get lost in emails, and hearing a voice creates way more empathy and paves a clear path for collaboration. 

This has been my experience and in no way is an exhaustive list. We are currently in year three of pandemic teaching, and now more than ever, educators must take care of themselves in any way they can. The administration needs to ensure that educators can do this.

Be well, teachers.

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