• Dennis McKesey

Teaching During a Pandemic: The Social and Emotional Toll on Teachers and Students


As a teacher, you want what’s best for your class. You guide your students through good and tough times, and you make it your mission to bring across the content of your subject. However, the current situation around COVID-19 has made it a lot harder for both teachers and students to stick to the regular schedule. While not everyone reacts the same, many teachers face considerable pressure and stress during this pandemic.


The Problem

Since everyone is either forced or advised to stay inside, schools are closed. For some, this may feel like an early start of the summer holidays, but for teachers, this is extra stressful time. All curriculum plans need to be transferred toward online classes and assignments. Tests need to be re-written to be compatible with online hand-in dates and schedules. Not only does this require a lot of work, for many teachers, but this is also unpaid time.

In addition to that, people are scared. Students worry about their families, their friends, and their grades. As a teacher, it’s almost an unspoken rule that you deal with these issues. To try and calm your students and help them feel better after class. However, many people tend to forget that, as a teacher, you have feelings too, you are also scared for your family and your safety. You don’t know how this is going to turn out.

Now is the time for teachers to help, not only themselves but also their students and their families by focusing on social and emotional learning techniques during class.


What Can You Do?

Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, is a teaching method in which educators pay attention to the development of certain social and emotional skills. These skills help the students to improve their lives at school, at home, and in professional settings. COVID-19 has been hard on all of us. Therefore, it’s essential that we take the time to process and reflect on this situation. Here are a few SEL-based methods teachers can use in their remote classes, but you can always look for more resources on Edutopia.

Reduce the Workload (Where You Can)

If your school/district allows it, you should try to focus on the most important subjects, while reducing the workload for yourself and your class. Take longer breaks between classes and use apps like Kahoot or Google Forms to take short quizzes. Everyone needs extra (mental) care, so keep that in mind when assigning homework or study material. Besides, this method gives you more time to spend with your family and yourself as well.

Reach Out

Talk to colleagues and ask them how they are handling the pandemic, ask the same to your students. Your colleagues can share tips and experience while offering mental support to each other. Your students may need some extra words of encouragement to keep on going, so make sure to be there for them, even when it isn’t school-related. The main point of SEL is social interaction, which is exactly what reaching out is! By hearing about the experiences of others, you learn to sympathize, or empathize with others, which will help to develop social skills. Take a moment during each lesson, or host a “mental health hour” for your students to share their experiences and feelings.

Read a Book

Sometimes, people read books to escape their reality. Other times, people read books to be able to connect with their feelings, or their current situation. It can help to reduce anxiety, stress, and feelings of depression. Former librarian Terri Grief set up a list of four categories of young adult books that can help your students to process their emotions and situation. However, it can also help you too! Give your students the challenge to see who can read the most books in a 3-week period!

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps to increase our self-awareness and can also help to identify and process feelings. Add a moment of mindfulness during your class and ask your students to reflect on their feelings at that moment. Ask them how they are feeling. Are they scared, anxious, angry? Ask them if they know where these feelings are coming from, and why they think they are feeling this way. Tell them that they do not need to share their answers, but to focus on them. Look for ways to redirect these emotions to more positive ones, and tell them that it’s okay to let these feelings pass when they do occur.

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