Caring for mental health in online classes

DISCLAIMER: This article is based solely on my experience.

Today (03/27), as I scrolled down Facebook posts, I could see many teachers willing to help other teachers who were struggling to migrate to online classes. In times of COVID-19, when everybody should be confined in their homes, teaching online comes in handy for schools and private teachers. But one post caught my attention. It was written by an ESP university professor who found online lessons were too impersonal. It made me think about my own experience with distance learning.

They became my reality almost two years ago. I had been teaching face-to-face for almost eighteen years when a friend approached me with the opportunity to teach people in other parts of the world. I felt reluctant because I had already made a couple of attempts to teach via Skype and didn't like it that much. How would I make the transition this time? How would I adapt the material? I took me some weeks to get used to seeing my students but not being in the same place.

I have to admit that teaching through a computer screen took its toll on me. Not only have I put on some weight due to moving around much less but also on my mental health. I’ve realized a tendency to get more depressed. And that makes total sense when we realize we are gregarious beings, we’re supposed to get out and see other humans, even though many people tend to say they love being indoors and hate the idea of social contact. So, what can we do when we are not supposed to go outside and feel the wind on our faces? Here are some tips that worked for me.

  1. Don’t teach uninterruptedly. Stand up, stretch your legs, have something to drink, watch your favourite TV series;

  2. Move! Yes, exercise. You can do it at home. There are plenty of videos on YouTube teaching you how to exercise without leaving home. It won’t take you more than 20 minutes to get your endorphin flowing;

  3. Call someone. I know it’s still not face-to-face, but it might help you feel alive knowing the people you love and care about are okay;

  4. When in class, take some brain-breaks from time to time. Watch a short funny video with your students, talk about something totally random. The world is already serious enough as we know it. Engage your students in pleasant conversations;

  5. Call your students by their names. Very easy with small groups, but not that easy with larger groups, like the ones we have at university. You can use breakout rooms to have students introduce themselves to their peers and then have them introduce each other to you. It’s also a good idea to ask your students to have their names written on the screen, where you can see all of them (some students leave the random number given by the platform or a username that doesn’t say much about who they are);

  6. Use the chatbox to interact with individual students;

  7. Smile! You might be a little down from time to time, but smiling will make YOU feel better. It’s not only about making other people happy.

There might be many other tips, but these ones have made lockdown a little bit easier for me. I hope they help you get through these times. Stay healthy!

Silvana Thees has been a teacher for almost 20 years. She a CELTA and a CPE holder. She’s been teaching online for almost 2 years now.

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