It’s no secret that teachers are experiencing higher levels of stress this school year. Teaching among the staffing shortages, uncertainty, and disruptive student behaviors brought on by the pandemic has been a significant challenge. Even the most experienced educators say that the 2021-2022 school year has been one of the most challenging times of their career

On top of this, the mid-winter months leading up to spring break tend to be a time of year where teachers feel run down and burnt out. All of this makes it a critical moment for educators to focus on their mental health to prevent teacher burnout. If you’re looking for ways to help manage teacher stress — or even just to beat the mid-winter slump — these mental health strategies can help.

4 Practical Ways to Support Your Mental Health During a Mid-Winter Rut

If you’re feeling like you’re in a rut, here are actionable tips you can start using today to prioritize your mental health.

1. Have substitute plans at the ready in case you need them.

Unexpected absences can happen at any time, but it can be stressful and time-consuming for teachers to plan for last-minute coverage. One thing you can do now to protect your mental health later is to start pulling together emergency substitute plans in advance and keep backup activities in your classroom. These resources can help you start building your substitute teacher lesson plans, so you have less to worry about the next time you need a substitute. 

If your school’s substitute procedure requires you to fill out documentation, send emails, or ask for coverage for other duties, draft templates of these in advance. When you need to use them, simply copy, paste, and update the draft with relevant information. Preparing backup sub plans and templates in advance will help you avoid spending hours outside of work getting things ready for a substitute. 

2. Strive for balance between work and home.

Teacher work-life balance is suffering as teachers experience increased demands due to staff shortages and pandemic-related reasons. While it may not always be possible to keep work at school, setting boundaries between work and home is key to prioritizing your own mental health. 

One step toward achieving work-life balance as a teacher is to look for the small ways that you can lighten your workload. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Put systems in place to help administrative tasks take less time. From creating your own email response templates to keeping an organized spreadsheet or folder of resources to use down the road, small changes to your organizational systems can go a long way in saving you time.
  • Cut down on your grading. Does every assignment need to be graded? Can you use an auto-grading tool like Easel Assessments to save you time giving feedback?
  • You don’t have to be accessible 24/7. Turn off email notifications on your phone and try to aim for a set time every day after school where you stop checking work emails.

FURTHER READING: Strategies for Teachers on Work-Life Balance

3. Remember, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need to create every lesson, assignment, or activity from scratch. But the reality is that you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. Many of the resources you need are at your fingertips, and they can help you create richer lessons when you’re strapped for time.

Draw on the experiences of other teachers by using resources they have used and loved in their own classrooms. Ask your colleagues if they’ve created resources they’re willing to share. You’ll save hours creating content, and you may even free up time to personalize lessons for individual students’ needs. 

4. Build your peer-to-peer relationships.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed this school year, you’re not alone. Now more than ever, it’s important to look to your fellow teachers as a support system. A teacher support system can be a great way to share strategies and provide emotional support in challenging times.

Here are some ways to start forming a support system with your fellow teachers:

  • Check in with your colleagues to ask how they’re doing.
  • Let your colleagues know it’s safe to discuss challenges with you, and that you’d like to support each other through those challenges.
  • Look to online teacher communities for support as they can be just as effective as in-person support systems.

These tips are a starting point for prioritizing your mental health and avoiding burnout during the mid-winter slump. Above all, remember to give yourself some grace this time of year. Your well-being is worth prioritizing.

For more teacher mental health tips, check out this Strategies for Protecting Teacher Mental Health blog.