by Elizabeth Schreidber M.Ed.

Isolation, self-doubt, insecurity, fear, fatigue, depression, loneliness, anxiety, insomnia, stress, disconnect, disinterest, sorrow, lethargy, grief, frustration, irritability, distress, the list goes on and on. Welcome to COVID-19 distance learning. As teachers we discuss regularly how our students and families are experiencing each of these emotions, we take it on as the next part of our job description, and we do everything within our power to soothe it, relieve it, heal it. But do we ever really discuss the blatant fact that we are also on this rollercoaster ride of emotion? We are now more than ever embodying the multiple personalities of teacher, counselor, social worker, and nurturer, and are now further embodying that of curriculum director, instructional coach, wellness guru, and distance IT personnel. In the pursuit of managing and excelling in our newly assigned duties, we are bound to experience a regular visit with failure, as the learning curve and change in working conditions is so incredibly steep. Our next stop? Shame. 

But do we ever really discuss the blatant fact that we are also on this rollercoaster ride of emotion? Click To Tweet

As teachers, we have culturally accepted the delivered truth that each student’s success is our own personal and professional responsibility. If we are not meeting the unique needs of each individual student, we are failing them, and we are failures as professionals. Society at large has grasped onto this idea and upheld it as a regulatory expectation that is set in stone. We, by and large, have risen to that challenge, altered the platform from which we work, and established a protocol to ensure each child is identified and served in a fair and equitable manner. 

Enter distance learning, oh now the rules have changed. This new platform was flung upon us at the last minute with little to no prep time and no solid plan in place. We are building this ship as we sail. Further compounding that incredible obstacle, we are now in many cases also private eyes chasing down students who have unplugged, are without connectivity, are busy schooling younger siblings, are working to assist their families, but are not succeeding in school. This is not homeschool, this is not a summer break, and this is certainly not our typical classroom setting. Yet in many cases, the expectations of success for every student remains steadily balanced on top of each individual teacher’s shoulder. We are not good at failing, and shame loves this environment. How do we battle shame? There is only one true and valid way to eradicate it. We must expose it to the light, admit it is there, and share it with a safe and trusted member of our tribe; your teacher tribe is now more important than ever. 

This is not homeschool, this is not a summer break, and this is certainly not our typical classroom setting. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, the distance we are all experiencing makes this level of vulnerability more difficult to access and provides the shame train a brilliant track from which to drive our beliefs. It is imperative that we create safe spaces for ourselves to vent, cry, share, release, let go, laugh, surrender, soothe, and bond. We need like-minded teammates with whom to battle this fierce beast. It is time to risk one’s self-identification with white-knuckled grit and be willing to surrender to a softer, more flexible flow of energy. We must trust that we are not alone, that we have fellow warriors out there, that they are willing to hold our fears and failures in a sacred space, and that we are capable of doing the same in return. In this environment, we can dissolve the obstacle, and allow more creative energy to enter in with fresh solutions. 

So how do we create this kind of environment within the confines of social distancing and the foreboding and overwhelming schedule of distance learning? It comes down to prioritizing ourselves and our tribal members. We all have those sacred members who can see us as we truly are, even if we aren’t always willing to open into transparency. Many of us find these sacred relationships in our teaching teams; we are the lucky ones for sure. If you don’t happen to have that established just yet, fear not. You may have members of your family or dear friends who are able to hold that sacred space for you, and that is a lovely place to begin. Still, hearing from other educators who are walking through the same fire makes for an incredibly empowering transformation. This platform here, The Educator’s Room, is a wonderful place to find others who are in need of such connection, and there are many other teaching communities already established online as well. Create for yourself the opportunity to establish the relationships you need to let the shame dissolve. 

We are blessed to live in a time where distance learning is readily available to the vast majority of our population. Within that framework also lies our toolbox for connecting with one another to ask for and offer the support and validation we are all so desperately needing at this time. Use Google Meet, Zoom, FaceTime, one on one phone calls, or any other platforms you are already utilizing for your classroom, to also connect to your tribe. Prioritize this as highly as you do your professional meetings, your parent calls, your instructional videos, and your online classroom. We do not yet know how long we will be under the influence of this new normal, and the earlier we build our own safety net and emotional first aid kit, the easier time we will have moving through the many stages of this challenge that remain ahead. 

I am personally blessed to have an incredible teacher tribe within my primary school. We regularly share our stories of success as well as our struggles, and yes, even and especially our failures. We have an understanding that all are held sacred and precious, and a level of tenderness and understanding is not simply expected, it is a mandatory and foundational golden rule. This level of vulnerability took time to cultivate, and a tremendous amount of intensive care throughout. We now support one another in a weekly Zoom meeting, outside of our contract hours, to uphold one another’s stories of success, failure, sadness, loneliness, fatigue, respite, grief, gratitude, peace, and yes, also often share a glass of wine. This has not eliminated the stress or the fear, and it has not released the fatigue or grief. It has, however, allowed for the shame that often follows those powerful mind paths to be identified, shared, and collectively dissolved. As each individual opens in vulnerability, every tribal member is somehow freed of their own heaviness. We simply cannot seem to hold one another up without also lifting ourselves in the process. 

Teachers need this level of comradery and support at all times, but now it is more critical than ever before. Shame hides in the dark, and it grows quickly, quietly, and seductively. It is the true paralyzer of growth and development, and the diminisher of self-worth and belief. In the isolated environment from which we are all working, the stage is set for the shame train to drive us farther down that track of self-doubt and disgust than ever before. The time for your tribe is now. Call on them, fight the battle together, and maybe, just maybe, we can actually come out of this storm a stronger and more grounded profession for the future. 

Note: If you are without a tribe and don’t know where to start, feel free to DM me on Twitter (@elizabethkschreiber). I am not a medical professional or licensed therapist, I am however a willing and able member of the teacher tribe at large – be well. 

COVID-19

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