Ready or Not: Coping with Working from Home
By Shawna Metcalf, CSTA President
I have spent the first three weeks of March vetting resources, creating plans, and learning how to use a variety of distance learning tools to prepare for supporting hundreds of teachers in my district while we are facing the challenges of remote learning. It wasn’t until my first week of working from home that I realized I forgot to prep for the most important support system…my own.
While many of you have other people in your new home office with a whole different world of challenges, I face the opposite and am home alone. My official hours are 8:00 am – 4:00 pm with a lunch break, so that is what I tried on Day 1 of working from home. I set my alarm, went through my typical morning routine, started answering emails, and quickly realized there was something missing. I don’t work from 8:00 am-4:00 pm without constant interaction with others when I am in the office. I walk by the pre-school teachers on my way into the office and socially interact. I sit in a room with six other people who regularly interact with me, whether it is work related or not. When I walk up to the front office to check my box, make copies, grab supplies, etc., I see a minimum of five people with whom I get to socially interact. When I was still in the classroom, I had a whole other list of interactions I missed when I became a Teacher Specialist. My point is that despite how diligently we put our noses to the grindstone at work, our profession is filled with social interactions that help us thrive. Our current reality makes these interactions challenging, but we must make a concerted effort to maintain our social connectedness while maintaining our physical distance.
In a virtual meeting last week, a colleague mentioned his dislike of the term “social distancing” and I echo his sentiment. We need to maintain our physical distance and do our part; however, it is even more important now for us to maintain our social connectedness. It has little to do with whether you are getting zero social interaction with people at home because you are in my situation or getting way too much social interaction with people at home because you live with others. It has everything to do with taking the time to have “social distancing” approved, social interactions with people outside of your home. I am not suggesting a daily phone call with the person at work you avoid at all costs, but I am suggesting making a point of interacting with your colleagues in unique and creative ways.
Here is what I am doing to build my system of support now that my house is sparkling clean, the laundry is put away, the garage and closets are organized, and I have run out of TV shows and movies to watch. (Ok, if you believe any of that is true, you do not know me…but I hope I can make some of them come true by the end of this.)
- Social Interaction #1 – I set up a virtual meeting with my office-mates at 9:00 am every weekday morning for us to connect. The first of these meetings focused on how we were all dealing with reaching out to teachers, as this is just as new and stressful for TOSAs as it is classroom teachers. It gives us a chance to vent to one another like we would any other day, laugh about random events from home, and just see one another. That visual piece is incredibly helpful so don’t be afraid to turn the camera on.
- Social Interaction #2 – I have a colleague with an amazing porch where we often meet up for Wine on the Porch. We have now set them up virtually where we can all have our beverage of choice, our own snacks, sit outside and socialize…all from our own porches or balconies.
- Social Interaction #3 – Game night!!! This one has been a blast. How many times have you planned on getting together with friends for a game night and, by the time it happens, months have gone by? Our schedules often have us talking about game night or movie night more than we actually ever get to do it. Not all games are conducive to the virtual world (like speed or nertz), but there are some great games out there that can be played over distances. Last night, we played Pandemic. My family is out of state and we used an online platform to bring me to the table so we could all save the world from the spread of disease. Yes, my family has an interesting appreciation for humor. They set up the board and we set up devices. I was able to be there with them from California. Tomorrow, we are playing Catan. Be creative!!! It really does help.
- Social Interaction #4 – In an attempt to support local businesses and still celebrate birthdays, we picked up dinner from the local pub (keeping our distance for pick up) and then sat in our respective cars in the parking lot while we video-chatted and had a meal together.
- Social Interaction #5 – Movie Night!! I know some streaming services have found ways of making this work, but I haven’t looked into it just yet. Rest assured, I will still have movie night with my friends and family…one way or another.
Regardless of how you do it, taking time for yourself to socially interact virtually with people outside of your house might just be the break you need. I keep reading articles and hearing from teachers and administrators that we need to be mindful of students’ mental health through this and remember that they have different roles and responsibilities while learning from home. That is all true…it just applies to us adults, as well.
Take care of yourself and create your virtual support system. If you have any suggestions for social interactions that fall within state and CDC guidelines, feel free to leave a comment.