NOTE: This post originally peered on my new project, ROOTED. My friend Jared and I are working together to build a community of educators interested in sharing their experiences. Please head over there and check it out.


I’m learning to use the phone.

I’ve just started my second year at my school, and I realize that I never paid attention to how the phone system works. I didn’t have to. One of the pleasures of working at a small, K-12 independent school is that I can generally use my feet to drop in on colleagues if we need to chat.

But I can’t do that so easily right now.

As it turns out, the phone is pretty simple. Grab the blue sheet with all the extensions on it, find the person you’re looking for, and dial their four-digit extension.

Genius!

As we transition back into school, so many of the things that we have taken for granted—serendipitous meetings around the coffee pot, time spent lounging with the amazing administrative assistants at the front desk, taking a moment to stop by a new teacher’s classroom to build a connection—are lost.

The hallways here are empty. Students are Zooming into their classes, and many teachers have opted to stay home for a variety of very good reasons.

  • How do we build community?
  • How do we make the connections we need to make, to stretch ourselves, to cross disciplines, to teach?
  • How do we combat the new digital silo that we find ourselves in?

I guess I started picking up the phone.

Zoom into Isolation

As educators, we’re often eligible for free stuff. Mark your calendars for teacher appreciation day in the spring when you can get that free burrito at Chipotle. Take a day to yourself during the summer for that free matinée at Alamo Drafthouse.

Thankfully, we have no shortage of free computer technology available to us to make this distance learning thing work. But “Zoom Fatigue” is a real thing. As I write this, I’m looking at a Wednesday calendar that has me on Zoom for nearly 4 hours: three classes and another meeting. Just thinking about this has me stressed out, to be honest.

What do I do during these Zoom meetings?

Mostly I’m just sitting there, talking and listening, or copying and pasting links into the chat so that I can share documents with students. I’m slowly evolving toward a sedentary lifestyle that feels very different from the on-my-feet, active teaching practice that I’ve honed for the last decade.

The hokiest (and whitest) Zoom session ever. Image from Wikimedia.

The magic of video conferencing offers us the opportunity to soldier on, to teach and make connections with our students and our colleagues, but in a way that is totally foreign to me. I can see them and hear them, but we are confined to our tiny, digital boxes. I look at the Brady Bunch collage of sophomore faces in front of me, and I wonder:

  • Are they hearing me?
  • What will make them listen? What will make them laugh?
  • Are they bored? Or is it just that they’ve dutifully muted themselves on Zoom?

I have to relearn how to adjust to this new paradigm. I can’t rely on the social instincts and cues that I’ve developed.

As so many have said, I’m a first-year teacher again.

Rediscovering You

That last statement is truly frightening. During my first full year of teaching, everything that could go wrong did. I was even famously accused—by one of my school’s prominent trustees—of being allied Satan himself! (Boy, that’s a story for another post, I suppose…)

I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to relive the anxiety of being new at this again.

This kind of thinking tends to send me down a rabbit hole, spiraling into a nightmarish Wonderland that I want no part of. I wonder when this is going to change. I wonder what it must be like to be an actual first-year teacher in 2020. I wonder if my brain is being fried by so many hours of Zoom sessions.

This, my friends, is the work of an anxious mind, of a trained professional who has lost his swagger, lost his confidence. I’m a hitter in the midst of a slump, a shooting guard who can’t find the bottom of the net, a quarterback who can’t read the defense.

But I know, deep down inside, that I’ve got all the tools necessary to figure all of this out.

How do I know that?

So many of us are feeling displaced right now. Ironic, of course, since so many of us are likely in the place where we feel most comfortable: our homes or our classrooms. But that terrain has changed. (And it’s not going to change back anytime soon.)

Even in this displacement, though, when I’m mindful of what’s going on, I realize:

  • I am a professional.
  • I know what my students need.

These two statements are true for you, too! You’re a professional who knows what your students need. You’re now presented with a new challenge—and I would definitely frame this as a “challenge” rather than a “problem”—to conquer.

To get into this frame of mind, you’ve got to start with the self. You’ve got to reassure yourself of who you are and what you’re about.

Every morning, I write in my journal. I’m a writer and starting with some handwritten pages helps me to center myself, to get some thoughts on the page, to dig into my soul and figure out what’s really making me tick. But before I do any of that, I start off with the same statement every single day:

BEGIN AGAIN.

I write it in big letters at the top of the page.

Every day offers me a new opportunity to start fresh, to figure things out, to be a little bit better than I was the day before.

Reconnecting with the Self

Here are some ways that you can reconnect with yourself as you meet the challenges of this new school year:

  • Journal. I know I already mentioned this, but I can’t stress it enough. Journaling offers you the opportunity to capture how you’re thinking and feeling at the moment. It reminds you that what you’re feeling is very real. It also helps you to separate yourself from those feelings a little bit.
  • Meditate. I know that meditation is touted a sort of panacea these days, but taking a minute or two to pause and breathe can do all sorts of wonders for your anxiety and frustration.
  • Walk. Studies show that getting out and walking (especially in green spaces) can have significant benefits for your mental health. You might also find that you get hit with some great ideas while you’re churning those legs. If walking is not an option for you, consider other ways that you might be able to disengage your thoughts through movement: going for a drive, taking a long ride on public transportation. Whatever works!

Each of these simple suggestions merits numerous posts, but just begin simply. Write out how you feel. Take a few minutes to just notice (and appreciate!) your breath. Go for a walk or a drive.

Help yourself to reset so that you can begin again.

Calling You to Action

How are you beginning again? What practices are you putting in place to deal with the Zoom Fatigue or with the challenges of a new hybrid learning space?

If you’re an educator with something to say, consider submitting your articles and ideas!