CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Being a teacher has never been easy, and the COVID-19 pandemic made the job even more stressful according to educators, who say that taking care of students is more challenging if you don’t take care of yourself first.
"I had to recently go seek counseling because I’m like, I’m not okay," said Tonya Tolson, a 12th-grade English teacher at Mountain Island Charter School in Mount Holly, North Carolina.
Tolson says in her two decades of teaching, the job has been rewarding, but demanding.
"We’re always the ones giving. And we give, give, give. So no one notices we’re actually giving from an empty cup," she said.
Lesson planning and grading papers require long hours. And keeping remote students on track during the pandemic was especially tough, according to educators.
"A lot of teachers are leaving the profession because it's really mentally not great for us," Tolson explained.
According to the National Education Association, there are nearly 390,000 fewer educators in America's public schools than there were before the pandemic. On top of that, 55% of educators say they’re ready to leave the profession earlier than planned.
Darnita Samuels is a North Carolina-based marriage and family therapist who regularly works with teachers. She says some feel overwhelmed, but don’t quite know why.
"What they’re saying is ‘I’m stressed out, my anxiety is going up’ things like that. So when we start asking questions, there is burnout. But then there also is some slight depression as well," Samuels said.
Samuels works with an organization called the Teacher’s Resource, which connects teachers with help.
"Healthy person equals healthy teacher, equals healthy students," said Sonya Battle, the organization's founder.
Battle says she started the Teacher's Resource when she noticed teachers around the country were being ignored when it came to mental health.
"Our first reaction is to always help the babies, help the babies, let them get through. And then we end up suffering," Tolson said.
Battle does Facebook Live and group Zoom sessions with licensed therapists like Samuels.
"Sometimes I open it up and ask if there’s anyone on here who would like to share exactly what they’re dealing with. So that we can help them get coping skills," Samuels said.
Since 2020, Battle has connected with roughly 1,000 teachers, including Tolsen. The goal is to keep expanding because Tolson says connecting with mental health resources proved a valuable lesson.
"You can say you’re enough all day, but when you don't feel like you’re enough, you’re not enough," Tolson said.
Group therapy sessions are helpful, but Samuels says finding one-on-one therapy is the best way to work through issues unique to a teacher. To help find counseling in your area, you can go to theteachersresource.org and click "contact us."