Reimagining Remote Teaching Volume 18 | GCTC

Reimagining Remote Teaching Volume 18

by Dr. Kerri McKenna - February 2, 2021

For 11 months we have lived through a shared, traumatic experience with the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of this experience, we have found ourselves living with heightened emotions caused by living in a continuous state of fight, flight, or freeze.

We are more irritable, more sensitive, and struggling with feelings of numbness. Add on the fact that while we navigate our own emotional journey during this challenging time, we are also faced with helping our students manage their own fight, flight, or freeze response. This state manifests as students who are not engaged with class, completing assignments, sharing more negative self-talk than usual, and being inconsistent in attendance and participation.

When you combine our students with our own stress, it leaves us wondering how to manage it all, so we do not feel as exhausted at the end of the day. The first step in this process is understanding the seven steps of our stress response.

Stress Response

The stress response is a fancy way of saying how we cope with turmoil in our lives. With Covid-19, even the most well-adjusted of us all are struggling at times to keep our stress response controlled. Instead, many of us have found ourselves in a situation like the one outlined below:

  • Step 1: You are interacting with a student who becomes agitated and starts to argue with you, accusing you of purposefully not helping them.
  • Step 2: Your emotional brain senses a potential threat to your physical or emotional well-being and sets off the alarm.
  • Step 3: Your thinking brain checks out and confirms that the threat is real.
  • Step 4: Your thinking brain goes “off-line” so that the emotional brain can take over.
  • Step 5: Your emotional brain initiates the “fight, flight, or freeze” response.
  • Step 6: You react in the situation by raising your voice / using a disrespectful tone and telling them they are not completing their assignments or doing their work.
  • Step 7: Your thinking brain comes back on to help your body calm down. 

In our pre-Covid life, most of us would have easily skipped over step #6. We would immediately engage our thinking brain and have an internal dialogue like “they feel bad for not keeping up with their work, so they are blaming me” and not allow our emotions to get the best of us. We would speak with our student rationally, not believe it was a personal attack, and work to find a solution together as part of a team.

Today? Not so much. Today, we just hear a student who appears ungrateful, unmotivated, and refusing to accept responsibility for their choices. And we react. Maybe our reaction isn’t overt, but we still take it personally. We still find ourselves being more critical and condemning of the students. We are less tolerant of them “being students” and have an unrealistic expectation that they should be functioning at a higher level than we expect ourselves to be functioning at right now. In turn, we react to them in many covert ways. The tone of our emails might be a touch sharper. Our interactions during class might be more tension filled. And, our disposition and outlook might be negative towards them. Instead of negative self-talk to ourselves, we have negative talk about our students.

Knowing, however, is half the battle. If we can identify when we are allowing our emotions to get the best of us and viewing our students in a negative light, we can cognitively change our outlook. We can take four or five deep breaths, count to ten, and re-engage our thinking brain before we react. We can cognitively remind ourselves this is an incredibly hard time, and we are all doing our best. We can remind ourselves that we have had our own moments with friends, families, coworkers and loved ones when we were not our absolute best during the past 11 months and show grace to our students. 

In the end, we are in this together. The only way we can survive these moments is to look for common ground and understanding how we can work together to overcome the bumps in the road.

Make it a priority to seek solutions and not just find problems. Make it a priority to identify the experiences of others while seeking your own answers. Make it a priority to push yourself out of your comfort zone and practice new approaches without fear. Make it a priority to be open to others and ask for help when needed. 

We are all in this together. And, while the vaccinations are providing us with a glimmer of hope, we most likely have five to seven more months to continue growing and evolving into our best self.