Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Emotional Burnout from Online Learning

Remember when I used to write on this blog regularly- or at least more than once a quarter?  Me neither!  I think I have a couple of good excuses though.  

    Excuse #1- Since I last posted- 7 months ago- I’ve had to study for and pass the most important test of my professional career.  

    Excuse #2- I started working at a new workplace – initially meeting clients in person, then meeting virtually when COVID cases rose, and now that I’ve been able to receive my vaccinations, I’m meeting both in person and virtually for those clients who prefer to continue meeting that way.  

    Excuse #3- I’ve been balancing working part-time with overseeing my children do online schooling at home.  I might also add that ALL of my children have varying degrees and subtypes of ADHD- Good Times!

Everyone has been affected differently during this pandemic.  Some have suffered financially, others have suffered physically or lost loved ones and those around them to the virus, and many have suffered emotionally with increasing levels of depression and anxiety.  One of the most difficult and unexpected parts for me of 2020/21 has been parenting- more specifically, trying to balance the physical health and safety of my children (and the health of those within our household and others around us who are higher risk) with their mental well-being.  It is undeniable that whether a child is particularly social or not, social development with peers makes up a huge part of their identity formation and mental health needs.

Two of my kids and I made it through three-fourths of the year doing online learning.  By February (just last month) we were all BURNT OUT.  However, I’ve been feeling more secure knowing that I’ve been vaccinated and that both sets of my children’s at-risk grandparents were able to be vaccinated as well.  We made the decision to send our youngest child, who requires the most supervision doing online learning and was showing the most adverse effects of not being in an in-person school setting, back to school just last week.  I have to admit that my own mental health was a contributing factor to sending her back to school as well!

We decided that our other kids can push through another month doing online learning at home to make the transition easier since it will be the start of a new term by then.  It is already SO much easier for me to be involved in their studies with one less high-maintenance student at home! I am also feeling some guilt lifted because I am able to spend more one-on-one time with my middle child who has typically become accustomed to fending for himself or taking the initiative to get assignments done while I focus my attention on his younger sister who is in need of more direct supervision and guidance.  That’s another thing I’ve discovered- each child is different and there are some cases where a child might thrive, for various reasons, in a virtual classroom or being homeschooled, while another child could seriously suffer emotionally or fall behind academically. 

As for kids “falling behind” in school because of the pandemic, I highly recommend heeding the following counsel written by retired educator Teresa Thayer Snyder, which went viral.  If you don’t have time to read the entire thing the biggest takeaway is ““When the children return to school, we will need to listen to them. Let their stories be told. They have endured a year that has no parallel in modern times.”

“Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I am writing today about the children of this pandemic. After a lifetime of working among the young, I feel compelled to address the concerns that are being expressed by so many of my peers about the deficits the children will demonstrate when they finally return to school. My goodness, what a disconcerting thing to be concerned about in the face of a pandemic which is affecting millions of people around the country and the world. It speaks to one of my biggest fears for the children when they return. In our determination to “catch them up,” I fear that we will lose who they are and what they have learned during this unprecedented era. What on earth are we trying to catch them up on? The models no longer apply, the benchmarks are no longer valid, the trend analyses have been interrupted. We must not forget that those arbitrary measures were established by people, not ordained by God. We can make those invalid measures as obsolete as a crank up telephone! They simply do not apply. When the children return to school, they will have returned with a new history that we will need to help them identify and make sense of. When the children return to school, we will need to listen to them. Let their stories be told. They have endured a year that has no parallel in modern times. There is no assessment that applies to who they are or what they have learned. Remember, their brains did not go into hibernation during this year. Their brains may not have been focused on traditional school material, but they did not stop either. Their brains may have been focused on where their next meal is coming from, or how to care for a younger sibling, or how to deal with missing grandma, or how it feels to have to surrender a beloved pet, or how to deal with death. Our job is to welcome them back and help them write that history.

I sincerely plead with my colleagues, to surrender the artificial constructs that measure achievement and greet the children where they are, not where we think they “should be.” Greet them with art supplies and writing materials, and music and dance and so many other avenues to help them express what has happened to them in their lives during this horrific year. Greet them with stories and books that will help them make sense of an upside-down world. They missed you. They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They did not miss the reading groups. They did not miss the homework. They missed you.

Resist the pressure from whatever ‘powers that be’ who are in a hurry to “fix” kids and make up for the “lost” time. The time was not lost, it was invested in surviving an historic period of time in their lives—in our lives. The children do not need to be fixed. They are not broken. They need to be heard. They need be given as many tools as we can provide to nurture resilience and help them adjust to a post pandemic world.

Being a teacher is an essential connection between what is and what can be. Please, let what can be demonstrate that our children have so much to share about the world they live in and in helping them make sense of what, for all of us has been unimaginable. This will help them-- and us-- achieve a lot more than can be measured by any assessment tool ever devised. Peace to all who work with the children!”

 Another thing I’ve had to work on while my kids have done remote learning this past year is chilling out and lowering my academic expectations for my kids.  This has been something that has been especially hard for me because I tend to be a perfectionist about checking everything off of a “To Do” list.  Unfortunately, sometimes my intention and approach comes across as a “Homework Nazi” to my kids and backfires, causing more stress and shame for them.  I am reminded that any additional stress or shame they might feel is the very last thing my kids need right now growing up in the middle of a global pandemic.

Back in Mid-November (even before Thanksgiving) my family put up the Christmas tree and our decorations and my kids made a paper chain counting down the days till Christmas.  We were in much need of early Christmas cheer and something to look forward to after a year full of disruption and disappointments.  Today after my little boy gets his online learning done he’s going to make another paper chain- this one counting down the days left till he can join his friends and classmates at school again after being separated from them for over a year.  For him, it will be like Christmas!