Although school has been in session for less than two weeks, teachers across the county have spent nearly a month preparing lesson plans, learning new communication mediums and familiarizing themselves with processes that, at times, could prove more stressful than any they’ve previously experienced.
In response to concerns among teachers about clocking additional hours and the long-term health effects of sitting in front of a screen for extended periods of time, a local yoga instructor has launched a weekly, virtual gathering. The sessions target Black educators, providing assistance in the practice of stress-relieving movements and mind-enhancing techniques which can be employed prior to the start of each workweek.
“I remember being a teacher. You dreaded Sundays with Mondays coming up and that was just being in the classroom,” said Ajeenah Abdul-Watts, co-owner of Twist and Turns Body Fitness in northwest D.C. and a native Washingtonian with nearly a decade of experience as a yoga instructor.
Last Sunday evening, Watts, a former elementary school teacher, discussed meditation techniques with nearly two dozen Black teachers from the District and other cities before guiding the group through a yoga flow. The hour-long virtual session counted as the first of several scheduled to take place throughout the school year, regardless of whether school buildings reopen.
“I want to help people find some relief by getting ready for work and [the sessions] will include a slow yoga meditation and affirmations they can use for the week,” Watts said.
“We’re focusing on relieving stress on the back, shoulders and hands. So far, we have 20 educators and a Facebook group. I created it so throughout the weeks and months, I can add short meditations they can use,” she added.
“Yoga and Meditation for Black Educators” comes at a time when Blacks are increasingly embracing physical and mental wellness while society grapples with a bevy of polarizing issues including policing, education and electoral politics. In the District, questions about whether schools would reopen have incited dialogue about the stresses related to teaching.
Earlier this summer, after the Washington Teachers’ Union organized around the safe reopening of schools, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) reneged on an initial attempt to fully open schools, or at least provide a spectrum of options for families.
In July, when she delayed her announcement about the fall term, Bowser told reporters that her decision would primarily focus on staffing capacity.
Shortly after Bowser announced at least one term of virtual learning, schools went into action for a smooth launch. As the spring semester has shown, teachers, in addition to students and parents, have had to make significant adjustments in the transition to a wholly virtual learning environment.
Qualitative data collected by Education Week shortly after the implementation of virtual learning models earlier this year showed that teachers struggled to transfer their lessons to digital platforms, respond to an influx of emails and phone calls and in some cases, meet the academic and emotional needs of their own biological children. Other situations that induced stress involved students who didn’t show up for virtual learning.
In recent weeks, resources in the D.C. Public Schools’ central office, the D.C. Public Charter School Board and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education have been tailored to meet teachers’ needs while the school year remains totally virtual.
As told to The Informer by one teacher, there’s been less emphasis on the timely submission of homework while students, teachers and parents continue efforts to make an unprecedented adjustment.
For Watts however, a wellness regimen – an affordable one at that – would best help in delaying feelings of stress and anxiety likely to surface while facilitating the virtual learning experience.
She said providing yoga and meditation for Black educators serves as a means of giving back to the community and passing on the tools that first helped her two decades ago.
“I saw different posts about how hard it was for teachers. You have Wi-Fi connections messing up and parents complaining, and I really felt empathy for them,” she said. “I know it can be stressful for everyone – not to mention the educators who are also parents. I was home and thought that it was time to put this in place.”