Are You Feeling Overwhelmed, Stressed & Confused By Virtual Teaching?

Virtual teaching can take all the regular stressors of teaching, such as lesson-building and rowdy students, and add even more challenges. All of a sudden, you need to deal with new technology. Each of your students is in a different place, with different distractions. You have little to no way of knowing if a student is looking at his phone or another tab on his browser. Meanwhile, you also have to consider the space you’re in. Are you working from home? Is there laundry in the background? Do you have kids at home or animals at home, who might disrupt your call? All of these new challenges can be overwhelming.

If you’re a perfectionist, these feelings of stress can be worse. Rather than seeing these new situations as challenges to be overcome, or mistakes that can be forgiven (after all, everyone makes mistakes, so why can’t you?), perfectionists tend to feel that they’ve “failed” more often. Studies show that perfectionistic people — those who feel that they have to be, or at least appear, perfect — have higher rates of anxiety and depression. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reported that 18% of the American population suffers from anxiety. A study of college students found that perfectionism increased significantly over the last three decades. It seems that young people today have higher demands of themselves and others and expect other people to have high demands of them. That’s a lot of pressure.

Perfectionism seems to be contagious. Think of it this way. A perfectionist parent might have high expectations of their parenting, but also high expectations of their children. Those high expectations might include expecting their child to receive high grades in school and be engaged in many extracurriculars. When the child receives a bad mark on a test, the parent might be angry at the child — or at the teacher. In turn, this increases the pressure that the teacher feels to be perfect in his or her work.

To top it all off, perfectionism can be difficult to pinpoint when results aren’t clear-cut. If you take a graded test, perfection is clear: you get a score of 100, or at least over 90, right? But we often find that work perfection is harder to define, especially with jobs like teaching. Perfectionists don’t let that stop them, though. They will feel extremely disappointed in themselves if students don’t like them, or fail their tests, or don’t listen in class. Does any of that sound familiar? A perfectionist might have the goal of being loved by all students, but that might not be realistic.

Remember, “perfect is the enemy of good”. We often feel that if we didn’t do all we set out to do, it’s as if didn’t do anything at all. In this process, we ignore everything that we have done or even lose opportunities to take action. Imagine coming home to a sink full of dishes. You know you don’t have time to do all of them right now. But perhaps you can wash a few plates and cups and leave the pots for later. If you come in with a perfectionistic mindset, you might not touch the sink at all, because you can’t complete the job. Yet doing “just a little bit” will lighten the load, make your task easier in the future, and lessen your stress and anxiety about the pile of dishes (because a small pile is less intimidating than a big one).

Teaching-wise, there might be some goals that are imposed upon you, perhaps from the school that you work for. Other goals have to be set by you and require introspection and possibly difficult questions. What makes you feel that you have succeeded in your teaching? When do you feel that you have failed? How realistic are your goals, and can they be adjusted? Goals that were perhaps realistic during in-person teaching might need to be amended when transitioning to online learning.

One major frustration in transitioning to online teaching is finding out that our previous tried-and-true methods don’t work anymore. This is extremely frustrating and overwhelming. In cases like this, we need to find new methods. But perfectionism can keep us stuck if we’re afraid to try new things because we’re afraid that we’ll fail. Yet if we don’t try new things, we prevent ourselves from the option of improvement. This negative cycle is hard to break — but luckily, it’s not impossible.

Confronting your perfectionistic tendencies can help you change your habits. Learning new tools to use in your online teaching can help you feel more confident. Practicing forgiveness will help you hold your mistakes with more understanding and grace. Making sure you practice self-care and implement a healthy work-life balance will help you regulate your nervous system and become more emotionally regulated.

Implementing everything might seem just as overwhelming as switching over to online teaching, but if you take one thing at a time — and be patient with yourself as you struggle — it will seem a lot more manageable. Many people find it easier to pick one new thing and focus on that. When you feel comfortable with that, you can slowly add new habits.

It can help to remember that as a teacher, you might not know the positive effect that you’ve had until many years later — and sadly, often not at all. A 12-year-old might not be likely to approach you after class to tell you how much your kind words meant, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be remembered. Sometimes our words will encounter resistance in our students, but a seed has still been planted. Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Focus on being the best that you can be — as long as you give yourself a break and take care of yourself. A teacher-student relationship can be compared to a client-therapist relationship — where the relationship itself is often more important than the tools used. A stressed-out, burnt-out, tired teacher might not be as valuable to her students, even if she stayed up all night creating the coolest presentation. On the other hand, when students see a confident person who takes care of themselves, that teaches them what they can aspire to.