BALTIMORE — It's no question the pandemic has caused stress for all of us, with teachers on the frontline of the headache.
At the drop of a dime, teachers were forced to figure out online learning while also providing a form of refuge for their students. Experts say that plus the uncertainty of schools reopening has taken a toll on educators' mental health.
Many teachers have been completely virtual for almost a year now. Some have turned a room in their home into an office space, while others are trying to share their work space with multiple people in the household.
For Aimy Avila, a teacher at James McHenry Elementary/Middle School, much of her day is stuck on the computer. Being in a multi-generational household, common issues like sharing the WiFi and dealing with schedules not aligning was stressful.
"At first in the fall, I just felt like... very depressed, just because you're on a screen, and not only that, but once you're off, it's not like, 'All right, I'm going to go hang out with my friends,'" Avila explained. "There's no time to like de-stress and really escape."
Avila says it was something she really had to think outside the box for.
The problem is that while working virtually at home, you never truly stop working. Avila says in some cases, parents are under the impression that she's always available. While it isn't entirely false, there's a balance she and other teachers try to juggle so they don't become overworked.
"It's like juggling when do I say yes and when do I say no, and when do I make sure I'm taking time for me. Because if I don't, then I'm just going to go on like this downward spiral of just like, "I don't want to do any of this," and then my job, I begin to do it mediocrely, you know?" Avila said.
It then turns into a case of burnout. Avila has been teaching for four years and says she wouldn't blame any first-year teachers for changing careers.
"I remember my first year of teaching, and that already comes with so much stress," Avila said. "I can only imagine for the kids and new teachers, being on the computer all day long and planning for all these subjects and then like trying to keep their kids engaged while also learning the curriculum."
Her best advice for teachers, especially those at the start of their career, is to have discipline when it comes to cutting work time off.
Avila says in terms of mental health support, they've received consistent contact from the Teachers Union checking in and making sure they're aware of their mental health resources, but she says she hasn't received that treatment from the district itself.
She says it's something she thinks would go a long way.
"It's the same little statement that I've been seeing circulating, take your PTO, take your sick days, because at the end of the day, to your employer, you're replaceable, and that's a very crappy feeling to have," Avila said. "I'm not going to say that teachers for a long time have not felt that way, because we have... I think at the end of the day, we're all very realistic."
Teachers say they don't expect the district to have all the answers, but wish there was some transparency and acknowledgment for the work they're putting in.
"If you can just acknowledge teachers for doing what they're doing and acknowledge that it is hard and that you actually care, like we're going to want to continue doing our work that much more," Avila said.
City schools responded Wednesday morning with this statement:
"City Schools recognizes that this has been an extremely difficult time for many of our staff, as well as our students. In order to be present and ready to support our students, teachers and other staff need to be supported to take care of their own emotional and mental health. In addition to the resources offered by our Human Capital Office, the Office of Whole Child Services and Support has provided numerous professional development sessions and other opportunities for adults to learn self-care strategies. As an example, our partners from the Holistic Life Foundation and Pure Edge have offered mindfulness sessions. We have also offered "healing circles" for both teachers and school leaders that use a restorative practices approach to create a safe space for reflection, sharing, and support."