How to prioritize yourself so you can help your students?

During one of our previous NAFSA Regional conferences, many attendees brought up topics that they had dealt with in their corresponding campuses. Topics ranged from helping students navigate the US healthcare system, tools for mental and emotional wellness, and the struggles with sexual assault and suicide. However, all of the resources discussed were focused on helping students. So what about the educators and administrators? 

At ISI, we understand the important role that emotional and mental health plays in our daily lives. We’ve developed many free resources over the years focused on the mental wellbeing of international students and scholars. However, in 2019, a published study done in collaboration between universities in the United Kingdom revealed that many factors can affect the environment of teachers at school and the state of their mental health directly impacts students’ mental health and well-being. A teacher that is able to be more present and be emotionally healthy will be able to build a stronger teacher-student relationship.

We cannot continue to ignore our international educators’ and administrators’ mental health. Many in our international community invest countless hours to help guide the incoming international students and scholars in their journey. In this blog we will begin the conversation and discuss some of the challenges teachers or educators face and some of the resources out there available for them specifically.

What is going on?

Research on teacher wellbeing has largely focused on factors such as stress, burnout, organizational and social pressures, and lack of supervisor or team support. It’s also important to note that the pressure on university/college leadership can oftentimes be greater. Add to that the very unique situation we all find ourselves in with the pandemic and it’s not surprising that many in the academic community are experiencing a state of chronic exhaustion. In a survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education over the last year, more than half (55%) of college and university faculty considered changing careers or retiring early due to the increasing needs their job required. Some of the key findings included:

  • 69% of faculty members are stressed, compared to 32% in 2019
  • 68% of faculty members felt fatigued, compared to 32% in 2019
  • 74% of female faculty and 63% of male faculty members indicated their work/life balance has deteriorated

So how can this be improved?

Taking care of yourself while trying to help others is a difficult task. Nevertheless, there are resources available for teachers and administrators out there to help navigate these mental health challenges. 

  • Take your own advice: When a student is going through a tough time, you as an administrator or faculty member are usually the first to lend a helping hand. You are trained to recognize the symptoms of stress, trauma, or discomfort. It’s important to apply your own knowledge and give yourself a break.
  • Remind yourself why you began this journey: You have joined the profession for a reason. This profession is many times driven by wanting to help others and creating communities to make a difference in the lives of international students. Remind yourself of your “why”.
  • Learn not to internalize burnout as failure: Expecting anyone to overwork themselves is harmful and can create a cycle of burnout. The more tired you are, the less effective and productive you can be. Taking a break does not mean you’re failing, we’re humans not machines. 
  • Prioritize mental health and normalize conversations about it in the workplace: Many faculty members conduct research on topics of mental health and yet our society continues to consider it an uncomfortable subject until the physical effects appear. It’s important to be able to speak freely about mental health. 
  • Using the available resources on your campus: Many of the resources we’ve made available to students can be utilized by faculty and staff. As an international community, we tend to collect all these resources and share them with our students but fail to remember them when it’s time to care for us. 
  • Creating boundaries with yourself: Stick to doable work hours, carve some time for your meals, get enough sleep, and be sure to exercise!

Resources

Here are some additional resources that you may find useful as you begin prioritizing your mental health:

Teachers of America offers many resources for educators which also address mental health. These include worksheets and mindfulness applications that can be downloaded right to your phone. 

Breath for Change is another resource that encourages educators to practice mindfulness, yoga, and social-emotional learning.

Onward provides a series of worksheets and readings which help cultivate resilience and help better understand one’s emotions. 

Our aim with this information is to begin the important conversation of mental health and the challenges faced specifically by educators, faculty and administrators in the international community. There is little research done on this important community and we hope that by addressing it in our forum, this will spark more discussion. 



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