Teacher self-care: Tips for working from home

Woman sitting outside on her laptop with cup of tea

Online teaching has gone viral! COVID-19 is causing teachers, who never thought they’d teach this way, to dive right into unchartered territory. Learning how to use technology to deliver content and evaluate students’ mastery of course principles is happening–almost overnight—and often without much guidance for instructors.

Faculty are often working more hours than they can count, trying to quickly ramp up so their students have little disruption in their learning.

Creating online learning environments is daunting, even for seasoned online instructors with weeks of lead time. But now, face-to-face face teachers are under the gun to get these courses up and running pronto. Those teaching in Spring 2020 are under pressures no one ever anticipated.

Add on to that the stress of self-isolation, homeschooling children, and sharing home office spaces with partners and children. Self-care is vital for any caretaker, and right now, it’s vital for teachers too.

This article offers teachers self-care tips to destress and renew so they continue to offer their expertise and talents to their students in these unprecedented times.

1. Work-time

Use the Pomodoro method of working. Complete 25 minutes of intense work followed by a 5 minute break. Repeat 3x if needed. Then take a 30 minute break before beginning the cycle again.

Remember, a 40-hour work week included water cooler time or meetings. Four hours of intense work per day is really an ambitious goal. Clearly, sometimes we spend more time and sometimes less, but don’t let working online dominate your entire day.

You need designated down time. Make rules for working hours that suit your most productive times and around other people and duties in your home.

2. Workspace

Designate a workspace (even if you have to share). Straighten and clear your work area every day. Try to keep this space only for your online teaching. Leave it when you have completed your work and don’t return “just to check.”

If you have to share a desk or computer with others, create a schedule and a way to remove your tools for work. Try putting your office tools on a cutting board you can take with you when you exit or find a box for your files/papers. This way, you have a portable workstation you can remove to prevent others from disturbing.

3. Teaching support

You are not alone. There are plenty of resources for teaching online, some at no cost. Sites like Pearson’s can provide you with online teaching tips as well as faculty experts to consult about best practices for teaching online.

4. Take care of your students

By now you may realize how time consuming and emotionally draining maintaining an online presence with your students can be. Take these steps to help take care of your students, and yourself!

  • Remember #1 and don’t feel you must be physically present 24-hours a day because your students may email you at 2 a.m. And while you need to find ways to create a real relationship at a distance with your students, they didn’t have access to you in the classroom beyond their class times and your office hours. The same rules also apply online.
  • Be clear with your students when you will and will not communicate with them. Defining expectations reduces misunderstandings that can occur when asynchronous communication becomes the rule rather than the exception.
  • Be cognizant of this crisis and consider bending some rules in your class that made sense before but may become less relevant now. Practice flexibility.
  • Focus more on collaborative activities between students if possible (shared Google docs or other methods of online collaboration).
  • Rethink deadlines.
  • Offer students some live time virtual meetings with you.
  • Create short video messages to your classes showing your willingness to understand how this crisis is impacting their lives.

5. Exercise

If you follow the Pomodoro method mentioned above, use the breaks for some type of physical exercise. Intense mental focus is relieved by short bursts of physical activity.

  • Try using an exercise ball to stretch out your back. Or you jump on that stationary bike or step machine.
  • Designate off time for physical workouts every day. Being confined in our homes doesn’t mean we can’t work out. Use YouTube for dance workouts (you can do this with anyone in your home or alone).
  • Take a walk (keeping safe distances). Getting outside, even if it means on the roof of your building, will do wonders for your attitude. Morning sun is particularly important, so try to get some of those early morning rays on the top of your uncovered head.

6. You are what you eat

Eat well, but not deprived. Now may not be the best time to go on that diet, but it is a time to eat well.

  • Comfort foods like chips and candy aren’t the best mindless munching snacks. Instead, try nuts, fruits, or crunchy veggies. Reserve your “treats” for designated times and make sure to really focus on the enjoyment of that special something (chocolate for many of us).
  • Eating out is not an option currently, so find ways to get fresh vegetables, fruits, and other groceries in safe ways. There are companies that will deliver fresh veggies and fruits to your door weekly, and many markets are providing curb side pickup or deliveries of preordered items.
  • This may be the time we all learn to create shopping lists and stick to them, making meal plans, maybe even cooking those recipes we’ve been saving and never trying.

Remember as you plan and eat well, we will all emerge from our cocoons in time; while a few pounds to shed may not be something to worry about, gaining 20 or 30 pounds will decrease your sense of well-being, creating additional stress. So, refer to #5 again!

7. Take care of your feelings

Most of us are overwhelmed by this crisis. Be gentle with yourself if you find you are less patient with others, have times when you just want to be completely alone, feel anxious, or find yourself in a cleaning or cooking frenzy. These are just signs that you need to decompress a bit.

  • Take up that hobby you’ve been putting off; use yoga or meditation to set the tone for the day or to decompress, or relax with a book in the evening. There are many free apps that can help you with these types of activities.
  • Reach out virtually to friends and family through regular video meetings. Free resources such as Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts, or Teams in Outlook can help you connect real time with those you love.
  • Attend virtual concerts that many orchestras and musicians are creating to provide comfort and inspiration, watch live cameras of zoos or wildlife, or start that blog you’ve been putting off.

Externalize your feelings in healthy ways by talking with supportive people either in your home or at a distance. If these feelings result in prolonged depression, please know there are many online counseling services that provide counseling. Counselors nation-wide are mobilizing and also working from home to help decrease stress and depression.

8. Care of others

One of the greatest methods of self-care is to flip the focus of helplessness or irritation and think of ways you are already caring for others. Look for fresh ways to be supportive of friends, family members, and your community that you hadn’t considered before.

There are sites and apps that offer opportunities to volunteer virtually in a number of ways beyond just donating. Often getting out of ourselves and into the needs of others lifts our spirits, increases our self-worth, and spills over to the jobs at hand; caring for the educational and sometimes emotional needs of our students.

Know that while you may not be getting the applause and ticker tape parades you deserve, your tireless efforts to provide ongoing education are not without notice. We will come out on the other side of this, and hopefully with greater depth in our understanding of what teaching and teachers mean and can come to mean to the students today facing challenges we have never encountered.

You are the trailblazers, teaching the leaders who will face new worlds of challenges. Take care of yourselves! The world needs you!

About the author

Terri-Moore

Terri Moore

A native Floridian, Terri worked in North Carolina for 15 years, directing non-profit agencies primarily in the fields of health care and services. Terri moved into academia where she has taught in higher education for over 19 years, teaching communication courses first at Guilford Technical and Community College, completing her master’s degree in communication studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Returning to her native state, she taught communication and college success courses with Polk Community College as she completed her Ph.D in Psychology with an emphasis in social psychology.

As a dual credentialed professor with Eastern Florida State College, Terri has been teaching both psychology and communication courses for over 13 years, using Pearson products in classes first with with MyLabs and continuing with Revel as it expanded the list of authors and developed additional integrations such as Shared Media. She has taught extensively, both in face-to-face and online platforms, a wide range of communication and psychology courses, designing a number of master courses for online programs. She has been a free-lance Faculty Advisor with Pearson for approximately 11 years, making the choice in 2019 to leave full time academia for full time employment with Pearson as a Revel Faculty Advisor for liberal arts.

A skilled presenter with excellent oral and written communication skills, Terri’s preferred research methods are qualitative with a special interest in social psychology and well-being across the life span. Most recently, she published an article based on her research of women choosing to make new committed relationships in later life.


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