Currently most of the United States is on some sort of protective measures to slow the spread of COVID 19. School districts have been closed until further notice. Colleges have gone to all online learning for the remainder of the semester. Some students were already released for spring break when this happened and haven’t been able to even get their things from their dorms. My state has gone to a “shelter in place” protocol which means only travel to and from essential places is advised. These extreme measures are something that most people have never experienced and tensions are high.
There are two groups that directly affect each other that I am closely associated with, teachers and students. Teachers have been tasked with putting the remaining of their curriculum into an e-learning environment or a completely online classroom. I am a former teacher and can only imagine the panic, anxiety, worry, and fear that my colleagues are feeling. Teachers are anxious that what they are putting online isn’t “right.” They worry their lessons aren’t clear enough or that they have put out enough material. Many teachers have added more and more to their lessons. Most teachers have never homeschooled a child so they don’t know how long it takes to present a lesson to only 1 student at a time. They are feeling insecure as they see what they have put out compared to what the “Pinterest” teachers are putting out. They worry for their students who don’t have a good support system at home. They are concerned for those whose only meal is the one they received at school every day. They are anxious for those students that school is the only safe environment they have.
I asked them to tell me what they would like parents to know at this time. One psychologist said this, “Dear Parents, There is no academic emergency this week, so don’t be so quick to set up a homeschool. Our country is in crisis and we are all stressed and tired. Stressed adults cannot teach stressed children. It is a neuro-biological impossibility. Try focusing on feelings of connection and safety.”
One teacher told me “We really wish we could be with the kids in our second homes, our classrooms!” Another teacher wrote on Facebook and received several Likes, “I don’t expect parents to be a teacher. I hope they can help their kids while/if they work on school work, but I don’t in any way expect them to do my job and anything I send home or ask them to do online is something I would like them to do so this time is not completely lost when it comes to education. It’s not meant as a punishment for parents.
Many teachers I’m friends with on Facebook have added a graphic to their profile picture stating how much they miss their students, they are still available to them, and they want to be back in school with them. Today a graphic was posted that has been liked by hundreds of teachers and shared over 10,000 times! The graphic is at the bottom of this blog.
On the other side of this equation are the students and their families. They too have scrambled to figure out daycare, working from home, changes in routine, and how to educate their child(ren). My child is in college so my worries are not the same, but even with our minimal concerns the tension can be felt. I have asked parents what they would like to know from their teachers and what they would like their child’s teachers to know.
Most of the parents I speak to have children with disabilities. The majority of these families were already stressed due to all they handle on a daily basis with their child who learns differently. They are most anxious about what services their child will be receiving from schools in comparison to the nondisabled population. They are worried about regression of skills learned this school year. This becomes a very tangled web as there are legal rights involved. This also creates problems for therapies and therapists because of not being allowed to go into the homes due to the virus. How does one provide physical therapy to another when they can’t physically be present with the person? Telehealth is an option, but most school districts, therapists, and families are not familiar with this program. Some people take their child to outside therapists in conjunction with the services they receive through school. However, going to these therapists has been compromised as well. Many of these children are immunodeficient as well so even without social distancing in place, they have to take extra precautions.
From this worry also comes fear. Fear that all the rights their child is given under IDEA will be taken away. Not just temporarily, but permanently. Over 13 ½% of children qualify for special education under the 13 categories provided for under the federal law. These children deserve to be educated and given services. We, as a society, miss out on great people if we choose to turn on our backs on them. Their parents know this. However, it took a very long time to convince society that they deserved to be educated. These parents are worried about going back to days when their children weren’t allowed in schools or allowed in general education classes.
Now, at least for a time, they are feeling as though they need to educate their children, too. Many educational companies are offering free trials of their websites or waiving the fees until the end of May. While this is wonderful, it is also overwhelming to many parents. They don’t know which ones are the ones their student needs. Some parents have little to zero experience with technology and how to navigate websites. It all adds stress to an already stressful lifestyle.
Another concern parents have is what is a reasonable expectation for the work the child has been given. What does the teacher really expect to happen on the websites, worksheets, projects, etc? What will happen if the child doesn’t meet that expectation? Are the materials supplemental, enrichment, or expected to be turned in for a grade? Some students have been given so much material by their teachers (see paragraph 2) that there is no way their child will ever get it all completed. When the child is one who not only learns differently but has many unwanted behaviors (escalated because of doing school work at home) throughout their day it makes for an incredibly stressed day for parents, caregivers, and students.
What I heard most often from both groups is they are anxious. While the specifics of the anxiety is different, anxiety is definitely affecting both groups. When we are faced with unknowns our anxiety can ramp up. When our anxiety ramps up our irrational thinking can ramp up. When our irrational thinking ramps up we can become depressed and hopeless that things will ever get better. I have personally experienced all of this at different times in my life.
I encourage you today to take a deep breath, slowly exhale, and follow the steps from “5 Steps to Living with Uncertainty During Coronavirus” an article written on March 11, 2020 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/. The steps and the explanations for each are at the bottom of this blog post but I suggest reading the full article. I also encourage you to be aware of your thoughts. Keep them in real time as much as possible. Focus on you, your family, and what you can control at this time. We are all maneuvering through this together and we can support each other through this as well.
The peace that I feel during this time comes from trusting one source, my Father in Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. I have a relationship with Him that I treasure above all my relationships. If you would like to know more about that relationship or you need more information from me at all, please feel free to contact me through my website, Facebook, or Instagram.
Source: Inna Khazan
Feel refers to the pre-verbal awareness of the uncomfortable feeling - noticing your experience when you find yourself searching the internet for too long, or not being able to stop going through what-if scenarios, or trying to find answers to the various questions in your mind that have no definitive answers. You might feel the tension in your chest or shoulders, the heaviness in your head, discomfort in your stomach, or shortness of breath.
Label this experience as “uncertainty” or “unhelpful thinking” or give it some other short non-judgmental descriptive label. Typically, when you feel anxious, the fear center of the brain, the amygdala, gets activated. At the same time, the parts of your prefrontal cortex responsible for decision making and problem-solving become less active. This pattern of activation may lead you to unhelpful automatic reactions to uncertainty and anxiety. The process of labeling your experience reverses this pattern – your amygdala becomes less active, and the areas of prefrontal cortex that help you regulate emotion, make decisions, and choose helpful action become more active. This is exactly what you need – activating the parts of your brain that are most useful in responding to uncertainty or other difficult feelings.
Allow yourself to experience uncertainty – its presence is not under your control. You will end up wasting valuable time, energy, and resources on futile efforts to get rid of it. Remind yourself that “it is ok to feel this way.”
Respond to the discomfort of uncertainty in a way that allows you to disengage from the unhelpful thinking without trying to ignore it. The following are some helpful ways to respond.
Respond to the what-ifs and other questions rolling around in your mind with “I don’t know.” Because that is the truth – you don’t know the answers to these questions and you don’t know what will happen in these what-if scenarios. Responding with “I don’t know” allows you to disengage from the effort to produce an answer as well as from unproductive attempts to ignore your thoughts (you have probably noticed that trying to not think about something only makes those thoughts more frequent and persistent).
Take some low and slow breaths. Please see my previous post on how to do that. Low and slow breathing will allow the intensity of the discomfort you are experiencing to ease, while providing your brain with the oxygen it needs.
Bring some kindness and compassion into the difficult moment. Times of uncertainty are difficult for all humans. There is nothing you can do to eliminate the uncertainty. Kindness and compassion will help ease the discomfort of uncertainty. One of my favorite ways to be kinder to yourself at a time of uncertainty is modeled on Kristin Neff’s self-compassion break
Allow yourself to roll these words around in your mind, while taking some easy low and slow breaths:
This is a moment of uncertainty.
Uncertainty is difficult to bear.
All people feel this way sometimes.
May I be kind to myself.
May I find peace and contentment.
5. Expand your awareness by taking the sharp focus off the discomfort of uncertainty and taking in the sights and sounds around you – the sky above your head, the floor under your feet, the chair you are sitting in, the person you see in front of you. Then shift your attention to the internal sensations — your breath, your heartbeat, and your itchy nose. This step allows you to see the uncertainty as a part of your experience, not all of it, thereby further reducing the intensity of discomfort.