FORT PIERCE, Fla. — As we all continue to deal with the mental toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, one Treasure Coast program is trying to ease the pressure on teachers, giving them a place to connect and regroup.
Teachers have faced significant hardships over the past year between finding a new way of teaching while trying to help students through this pandemic, as well as managing their own family struggles.
That's why one Treasure Coast mental health organization formed a new support system to help educators through it.
"I think teachers need to know that someone hears them and care," said Makeda Brome, the assistant principal at Fort Pierce Westwood Academy.
Brome is a former teacher of the year winner for St. Lucie County. She knows what her fellow teachers are going through.
"No one wants to feel like they cannot do their job or they are not able to," Brome said. "The one thing about education is we thrive on community, and we thrive on relationships and contact. And one thing the pandemic has done especially is isolated us."
That's why Treasure Coast mental health provider Tykes & Teens created a program called TEAMS, which stands for Teacher Empowerment And Meaningful Support.
It's a monthly virtual and confidential conversation, a safe place allowing teachers to speak openly and honestly about what they are going through and get the guidance they may need.
"There is a certain anonymity that teachers want to be able to vent and say what they are stressed about, without feeling that it could affect their job or how people perceive them," Brome said. "So this gives them the opportunity to do it in an anonymous way."
"We find that teachers are really looking for support because they often are there for the students, but they get frustrated with their ability not to be able to deliver what they envision or what they’re passionate about," said Dorothy Oppenhesier, the trauma-informed care coordinator at Tykes & Teens.
Oppenhesier said the topics discussed can also be brought back to the classroom to help students cope with COVID-19.
"Having them think about the reason why they came to teaching and really tapping into the passion of why they are there helps them to revisit, you know, why did I start doing this in the first place?" Oppenhesier said.
Brome said that over the past year, she's noticed teachers looking for more ways to take care of themselves, both in and out of school.
"Teachers are reaching out more and being willing to say, I can’t do this on my own. I'm not an island. I need community now more than ever," Brome said. "No one wants to feel like that cannot do their job."
Making this program a perfect fit.
"I think when they realize what they are experiencing and how the way they are feeling is normal, it helps them to realize that, I'm not the only one going through this," Oppenhesier said.
Oppenhesier said teachers should remember why you started teaching in the first place, and reconnect with that if you are struggling.
Also, practice mindfulness and take deep breaths during those tough times.
TEAMS started in October and meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 4:30 p.m. It has room for about 10 teachers per session, and is open to teachers in St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River, and Okeechobee counties.
If you're interested in participating, click here.