5 Ultimate Tips for Substitute Teachers on How to Cope with School Closures during the Corona Virus Outbreak.

Covid 19 - 5 Ultimate Tips for Substitute Teachers“Prepare some work for your pupils – Schools are closing from 3pm today… It’s hoped we’ll be back after March 29th… but we can’t confirm that as yet”. That was the message we received in schools all around the country and it was the last time we stood in schools in a teaching capacity for almost two weeks now… and there is no sign of us going back. Teachers North, South, East and West knew the Corona Virus was closing in on us but to hear the official word – it was still a shock.

Many substitute teachers, like myself – are in a complete quandary about what to do. Sub teachers are still unclear what is in store for them in terms of long term employment over the coming months. Many fear they will have to subsist on the Social Welfare rate Job Seekers Benefit (*now increased to €350 – which is great to get) or failing that if subs don’t have enough stamps paid up, Job Seekers allowance. However, for most, their weekly wages were considerably more than this. But no work, means no teaching income and no security – all due to Covid 19. Many continue preparing plans for their students because they have a duty of care to them, exam students need the support and all have embraced new technologies to help them teach remotely. But especially in the initial stages – the uncertainty, injustice and confusion makes the situation a difficult one to cope with.

Here are a few ways to help substitute teachers remain sane over this worrying time: 

  1. Look after your Mindset.

As a Life Coach for the past two years, I’ve worked with many clients to improve the quality of their thoughts. Negative thinking patterns can be massively destructive in terms of your levels of happiness and embracing a positive lifestyle. I suggest noting the fears that you have about your current situation. Are they fears around the virus itself, about the financial impact of being off work for so long, the boredom of not having the same sense of purpose or something else? Write them all down. During times like these, it is often common to embrace a range of negative thinking patterns. These are called cognitive distortions. When we identify the types of negative thought patterns we’re having it’s a good idea to think of alternate responses. Three common cognitive distortions are:

    • Filtering (“Everything is going wrong in the world.”) What’s happening here is that this person is filtering out any positive information and is only seeing negatives. A more helpful way of thinking might be “The world has lots going on right now, but many people are behaving so kindly towards other, spring has arrived and I now have time to read and work in my garden”.
    • Catastrophising – This pattern of thought means that the thinker is imagining the very worst outcome that could happen (“I might die, members of my family will die and I won’t be able to cope”). A more helpful way of thinking might be to think that “Yes, this situation is bad but at least I have many ways to help me remain safe. I can stay indoors, I can ask for the help of family/neighbours. I can eat healthily so that my immune system remains strong.”
    • Jumping to Conclusions – In this cognitive distortion, the individual believes that they know what another person is thinking and doing, and exactly why they act the way they do. (“Boris Johnson is taking action now because of his conversations with Leo Varadkar and because Leo is a doctor”). A more helpful way of thinking might be to say to yourself – In truth, I don’t know exactly what’s going on around the world but I can make sure that I look after my own personal responsibilities and that’s enough for me right now.

2. Money Matters

With no work and fears about money cropping up… what is in our control? Take a look at my blog ‘Money Saving Tips for Teachers’ for more information about money management for teachers – you may find some useful information there.

Firstly, know the black and white facts. On average – how much you earn fortnightly? If you don’t know this – take out your payslips from 2020 – to date and get the average. Then reflect, what savings are to be made from being stuck at home e.g. childcare, petrol costs, eating out etc.? Is your landlord providing rent assistance? Lastly, project what expenses are coming up (e.g. car insurance, mortgage repayments etc.) – how can you reduce expenses or bring in once-off or continual income and come up with the money to pay immediate and pressing expenses? Getting this information down on paper with an overview of income, expenses and things to come will be key to creating a plan.

Other ways to increase your fortnightly income might be tutoring online, working with the HSE or in retail – all of whom are recruiting at the moment. I totally get that this is not feasible for everyone – due to various reasons – childcare issues, underlying heath conditions etc. but it may be worthwhile considering for some substitute teachers.

Finally, goal setting – thinking fortnightly – if this situation continues – for one month – how can you survive on your projected income? (Create a short term plan), 2 months (create a medium term plan), 3+ months (create a long term plan) to help you to live within your means. If you would like a goal setting template please feel free to contact me at hello@orladempseycoaching.ie and I will get one to you.

  1. Plan in advance

If you teach in a permanent or temporary capacity and you have a job to go back to, putting some plans in place in terms of your return may be a useful point to take action on.

What might the return to school be like? For some children, they may have had amazing life-enriching experiences – baking, playing ball, reading and spending time with their parents. For others, they may have suffered abuse, neglect and hurt while in isolation. Going to school for these pupils is their safe haven. While we bring pupils up to speed with the academic side of the curriculum – we must ensure that the emotional needs of these pupils are identified and supported. What supports and schemes may you use to help them? What concerns may you have and are you ready (if the situation arises) to report them to your school Designated Liaison Person?

On a lighter note, other preparations you may make might mean – having something to look forward to for your first day back eg. buying a new outfit or lunchbox/bag (online, of course) that may make the morning of the first day back a little easier or exciting.

Also; reflect – what lessons that we learned during these days in isolation that can be used now to improve your teaching in the future? Personally, I can see that the education system is coming on in leaps and bounds, in terms of embracing new technologies to help us teach and teachers are doing an amazing job using new methodologies to get information across to pupils. I also feel that overwhelmed teachers are getting an opportunity to reduce stress and re-prioritise what’s important to them. Asking the question ‘What lessons have I learned about myself and my work while in isolation?’ is a worthwhile one to ask. Then, bearing this time in mind – are there any changes you need to make to your daily working schedule/habits etc. It may be necessary to make some changes.

4. Jobs, Application Forms, CVs and Interview Preparation

For any substitute teachers who do not have a position to return to – the return to work when it happens, will mean a quick scavenger hunt to secure a job asap. Using this time to update your CV/Application Form with your most recent experience, most recent CPD and outlining how you’re an even better teacher as a result of the Corona Virus time at home.

Also, getting your name included in Whatsapp groups, onto Subseeker, SubSearch and reaching out to Principals you know, from the offset – once word goes out of the return to school could mean getting a position straight away.

5. Relaxation

The top thing that we can do during this time is to relax. Taking time out each day for ourselves – to really get in touch with what we need and take action on what will help us boost our immune systems, give us a sense of calm and rejuvenation.  Think back to when you felt most relaxed – what were the conditions? What were you doing? How did you feel in your body and in your mind? For me, running is a major reliever of stress and taking a spa day/retreat in which I ban social media, eat healthy, tasty foods and spend some time alone. Knowing this, I can rule out the things that may help others to relax – like watching tv, painting etc and instead, create opportunities and situations in which I’m doing the things that really relax me. I have the time to do that now of course! Furthermore, putting appointments in my diary for the future – also encourages me to prioritise activities to help me relax as we go back to school. Hopefully these lessons will become part of our new normal.

In conclusion, whenever this is over, we will return to school. We will greet our pupils with joy, merriment and relief and we will begin again. Yes, there will be pain. But there will also be learning and fun memories and laughter and joy and community spirit. Substitute teachers – you may be in a pickle at the moment but we can get through this. Please know that I’m here to help you if you’re going through a rough time. We are ready to support one another.