How to manage your teaching during a personal crisis?

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A crisis, whether it is local, national or personal in scope, can leave a significant impact on your teaching and your students. You and your students could be directly or indirectly involved in a traumatic incident and the resulting anxieties experienced in the classroom can affect learning and teaching. Personal crises, like dealing with a separation or the loss of a loved one, can impact your well-being—personally and academically.

As a teacher, it is necessary for you to do something if your student is facing a crisis on the personal front. Students say that even a small gesture is helpful, regardless of whether you put in a little effort or take a great deal of pain. The least helpful response would be disregarding the crisis and stating that the students don’t need extra help. Some of the methods to address a crisis in your class are:

  • Handling the Cognitive stress

A personal crisis can affect students’ cognitive capacity as their working memory is hampered following a stressful experience. This knowledge may make you lenient with deadlines or modify a week’s course following the tragedy to adjust to the workload. You may even hold a review class for topics taught during the crisis to help students.

  • Holding a Discussion

If you wish to create a safe environment for communication, you must understand that a difficult conversation may take some time and you need to provide adequate time for that conversation in the semester. Given that one session of discussion may be inadequate to deal with the crisis fully, you should allow some flexibility and extend the conversation to a future session or over the semester, as required. You must allow sufficient time for each discussion so that students who need time can open up and talk about their experiences could also be included in the discussion.

It should be noted that the students are allowed the freedom of participation. If you coerce students to participate in the conversation, they may be very cautious about what they say or even withdraw from the discussion completely.

  • Encourage nonverbal communication

Don’t feel disheartened if your efforts to break the ice and make a discussion are met with silence. Non-verbal behaviours like silence can be as important to a productive discussion as words are. Your attempts to fill the silence by changing the question can inhibit students’ ability to work out the problem and to get ready to reveal their thoughts. If a student repeatedly requires extremely long silent breaks, you should ask why he/she don’t feel comfortable talking to the classmates.

  • Allow students to set rules

By allowing students to set the basic rules, you can help them to create an environment where they feel confident to share their feelings, emotions, and thoughts. The students will be able to gain strength at a moment when the tragedy has left them feeling helpless. These rules should be established before the start of the conversation session and repeated every time the discussion is continued. In this way, you will be able to provide them a predictable format and environment for continuing conversations so they feel more open to share their feelings and crises.

  • Encourage empathy among students

During a conversation, some students often start thinking of their responses instead of listening intently to the person who is speaking. In situations when the crisis is difficult to cope with emotionally or if there is suspicion among the classmates, empathy becomes even more important. By calling attention to such dynamics, you can encourage students to listen carefully and be sensitive towards a person who has recently suffered a major personal setback. This is necessary to maintain a balance of power in the classroom. You should ensure every student gets equal opportunities to share or present their views and all of them are treated with equal respect.

  • Organise volunteer services

Losing your best friends and classmates to a tragedy at school is a profound personal crisis for students. In order to bring the life of grieving students back to normalcy, you can identify and facilitate a way to pacify those affected by the tragedy through initiatives like donating goods, collecting money, organising volunteer services at the tragedy site. You can also think of other ways to support students such as rescue and relief methods. Such crisis-focused management is identified as an extremely helpful response by the students as it helps to lower the levels of long-term tension among the affected students.

  • Requesting a moment’s silence

Taking a moment’s silence wouldn’t harm the class proceedings but will certainly give everyone an opportunity to empathise with the situation and demonstrate your humanitarian side.

Having talked about your role in helping students going through a personal crisis, it becomes imperative to draw your attention to the fact that your attempts can turn out to be damaging if you introduce emotionally difficult issues without offering appropriate assurance and assistance to students. Although we have discussed how you as a teacher can handle student crises, but what if the tragedy has occurred in your family?

Like any other human being, teachers also have to deal with crises in their personal lives. The researchers recommended several strategies for helping teachers cope with a personal difficulty. These include:

  • Accept the crisis: Acceptance can prepare you to grow as a person without the person or loved one that you lost to a tragedy.
  • Prioritize: You need to sort out your priorities as a teacher and prime yourself to fulfil your responsibilities. You can make new routines based on your priorities.
  • Tell your colleagues: Share your tragedy with your colleagues who might come forward to alleviate your workload during the crisis.
  • Tell your students: The students would be more empathetic towards your situation and try to cooperate with you.
  • Adjust your expectations: You personal loss is expected to impact your professional expectations. It would be wise if you adjusted your expectations for some time and use that period to strengthen yourself as a person.

There are some of the recommended methods to help teachers cope with a critical situation in their classrooms or in their personal lives.