Teacher Stress and Burnout Through a Pandemic
Keziah Gutierrez: There’s this TikTok video I keep seeing everywhere. Someone says: “You need to start romanticizing your life”. Now, I looove books and movies— so I knew what that meant. You act like the main character, where in the beginning you’re stuck in some conflict, suddenly there’s a montage of you having a makeover and the next thing you know, you become this empowered lawyer who sends a message that you can love pink, be beautiful and smart.
But this isn’t a movie, and I did not become a lawyer—I’m a teacher. I’m still trying to learn how to do it all.
Hey! It’s me, Kez G, and the word for today’s lesson, class, is empower. It’s a big word. A lot of people add the word ‘teachers’ in front of it, and it makes: teachers empower. It’s what teachers do, and I want to salute all my fellow teachers out there. We empower.
But here’s a question: How do you empower a class of teenagers behind a computer screen, in the middle of Melbourne’s infamous 2 year lockdown? Sounds easy—feels… impossible. Between March 2020 to November 2021, the state of Victoria recorded one of the highest number of Covid-19 cases within Australia. Just like the rest of the world, we entered lockdown.
And my kiddies…they were still silly as ever. My favorite thing is where they pretend to lag… “Sorry…miss…lag…hear…you…” and you see their parents just walk by seamlessly behind them.
But soon, they became less… happy.
“Ms. G, why can’t I go outside?”
“Ms. G…I don’t have anyone to talk to at home…”
“Ms. G. I promise I went to sleep early, but why do I still feel tired?”
Why do I still feel tired?
How do you empower kids who have no idea what ‘emotional and mental exhaustion’ means? What do I tell them? I didn’t know. All I could think of was Ms. G needed it to step it up. So that’s how Ms. G was born – I made Ms. G a reason for my students to keep learning. If no one was there to make them feel confident, then I’ll do it. If they need someone to talk to, I’ll be there. With God’s mercy, and through my personal devotional prayers, I asked God to help me be a good teacher. I asked Him to grant me wisdom, knowledge, to help empower my students, and help them get through the school year. I took it one day at a time with them. I told them: Focus on today, focus on the WebEx, because I’m here, your classmates are here. Today will be a good day, so let’s go get it.
Ms. Gutierrez was thriving. But there was one more person who needed a little help… and that was Kez. Me–I was faltering. Ms. G had her lesson plans—I was lost in my thoughts. She had her students—while I—I felt disconnected. After work, I would never have the energy. No energy to speak to my friends, no energy to get up. I would go to sleep early, and wake up tired. No focus, no motivation.
In the midst of building Ms. G…I lost Kez somehow in my own, unknown invisible exhaustion. And I didn’t know how to empower myself…
One worship service night, I began to pray. I remember just breaking down the moment I started my prayers. I let it out finally, and I asked God “I don’t know why I feel this way. I don’t know what’s happening, but help me get through it. Help me to feel happy again, to help me feel myself again. Tell me what I must do, and I will do it.” For the first time, I felt all this weight come off me. I didn’t get a straight answer of how to defeat this invisible fight, but God was here, and that was the first step – to remember that He will always be there, and He will always answer your prayers.
I found out that same night that I was experiencing something called Languishing, after I told my older sister about how I’ve been feeling. She sent me these articles, languishing is an emotional and mental state, where you gradually begin to feel “stuck and empty”. Funnily enough, languishing symptoms were exactly what I felt. One way to combat languishing is to find a flow state—to be so immersed in an activity that you gain back the productivity and eventually, the motivation. It can be cooking, gardening, a new skill, and for me, it was my duty as a Video Editor for the Church.
During the lockdown, I was approached to help make lyric videos for the INC Original Music Youtube channel, and eventually, other Christian Music Videos. So, after WebEx with my students, I would start on my lyric videos. It did three things – number one, it brought back the purpose I was missing. Number two: Completing a project brought back small feelings of victory. Number three: it made me happy.
Slowly, Kez came back. This energetic, happy girl that you are seeing right now. Let’s go back to that montage of the main character I talked about in the beginning – my winning moment was when the videos I edited were posted on Youtube. After months of feeling unfulfilled, I felt the win. The pride, and happiness I felt seeing them, knowing that I helped with that work. I always felt those feelings, and that was how Kez came back. Because when you put God first, everything follows.
To this day, I still experience languishing. Not as much, but it comes like waves. Now that lockdown is over, my routines have changed, but one thing always remained the same: I never stopped praying, worshiping, and I never stopped my duties.
I noticed something. I told my students during lockdown to take it one day at a time. To focus on what’s in front of them. I learned that lesson from God first. When I prayed to Him to be a good teacher, He blessed me with the things I needed to say to my kids. I had the answer all along, even before I knew I was languishing, God was already there. God never left, and when I pray and talk to Him today, I always remember those two years, and thank Him everyday. I’m not me because of me. I’m not empowered because I’m Ms. G. Ms. G empowers her students. But God empowers Kez. I don’t need to ‘romanticize’ my life. My life with God is already pretty cool. Make that a TikTok trend.
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