NEWS

Amid School Reopenings, Latinx Teachers Struggle With Mental Health

Latinx heritage month.

Amelia Manley / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • Navigating in-person learning this fall is taking a toll on Latinx teachers’ mental health.
  • The CDC reports that the Latinx community is experiencing disproportionately high levels of depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts related to COVID-19.
  • The stigma surrounding mental health in the Latinx community, as well as a lack of resources for educators, makes it difficult for Latinx teachers to seek support.

This fall, despite the surge of infections brought on by the Delta variant, Sofia Goetz is back in the classroom. Now, her school day consists of endless pumps of hand sanitizer, distributing masks among forgetful students, and reminding classmates to social distance and keep from hugging.

Teachers are being stretched thin. Most are being asked to ensure students follow safety protocols while catching up on 18 months of learning loss. All the while, they need to be prepared to transition their lessons to remote instruction at any minute. 

Managing this added pressure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy for educators.

“I’ve never seen this kind of stress,” Goetz tells Verywell. “It’s a stressful profession in general, but people are panicking, breaking down, and wanting to leave the profession altogether.”

Goetz teaches history at a high school in Lynn, Massachusetts. For the 2019–2020 school year, she taught mostly online, with a short reopening that resulted in a return to remote learning. Still, like so many others, Goetz worried constantly about COVID-19, both for herself—having struggled with lupus—and her immunocompromised family members.

What Is Lupus?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by chronic inflammation causing pain, fatigue, swelling, skin lesions, joint stiffness, and adverse health effects that can impact the heart, lungs, blood cells, kidneys, and/or brain.

Goetz’s school is one out of hundreds of thousands across the country that are not offering remote instruction this fall. The return to in-person learning won’t be simple. Already, teachers are being forced to navigate ongoing changes in safety protocols, as well as contentious mask and vaccine mandate wars. The past year and a half is taking its toll on teachers’ mental health.

Latinx teachers are in a particularly vulnerable position. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found higher rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts related to COVID-19 among Latinx people. Because discussing mental health is still considered taboo in parts of the community, many Latinx teachers are struggling to get the support they need.

Managing an Increased Workload  

For Jennifer Gutierrez, a middle-school math teacher in Southern California, one of her greatest challenges throughout the pandemic has been managing the increased workload. “I almost never turn off my computer because it’s a pandemic and we are told to be available and flexible,” she tells Verywell.

In Massachusetts, Goetz is in a similar situation. She holds office hours twice a day, while also making individual appointments with students who are struggling—even if they have to happen on weekends. These added stressors make a physical impact too.

“My joints and my muscle issues were really aggravated during the past year,” Goetz says.“I had physical pain attributed to stress.”

Not only are teachers working longer hours, but COVID-19 added an entirely new layer to their jobs. According to Sabrina Cordero, a high school biology teacher from Los Angeles, maintaining safety protocols is a new part of her daily responsibilities.

“I don’t feel like just a teacher anymore,” Cordero tells Verywell. “I’ve also taken up this responsibility for everyone’s health. It’s not communicated with us, but it’s an expectation.”

Goetz agrees, noting that the constant monitoring and enforcement of the safety guidelines add to their already intense workload.

“It is always in the back of your head as you’re teaching: make sure the kids have their mask on, make sure that they’re socially distant,” Goetz adds. “They want to hug each other, but you have to make sure that they don’t do that.”

Serving as Vaccine Educators

This fall, none of the teachers Verywell spoke to were given the option to teach remotely. Cordero feels safe returning to in-person learning because she’s vaccinated. But she wishes her students, who are all eligible for vaccination, were required to be vaccinated as well.

Now, she finds herself navigating misinformation in the classroom as well. Many students have told her that their parents don’t believe the vaccines are safe.

“They have told me they want to be vaccinated, but their parents won’t let them,” Cordero says. Whenever possible, the biology teacher explains to students and their families, who are predominantly Latinx, how the vaccines work and the importance of getting the shot as soon as possible.

Struggling to Find Support

In many Latinx families, Cordero explains, talking about mental health is taboo. Working hard often becomes a coping mechanism.

“I still have a job and I’m still getting a paycheck,” Cordero says. “I’m grateful. I always think of my dad who works on his feet all day.”

Cordero’s father is a machine operator in a steel warehouse in Los Angeles. “When I think of my dad, I think what a luxury that I had to be home and teach from my room,” she adds.

Gutierrez feels similarly about the emphasis placed on work within Latinx communities.

“Even during summer, I’m sitting on the couch and my mother walks in saying, ‘What have you done all day?’ [to which I say] ‘Mom, I’m relaxing,’” she says. “‘Relaxing doesn’t pay the bills,’ [my mom answers.] So that’s also been a struggle. It’s definitely in the culture to just keep working and not stop.”

Even as adults, both Cordero and Gutierrez still struggle to discuss mental health and find support within their own families. They try to bring it up every once in a while, but the subject is often dismissed.

But stigma is not the only barrier to finding support. Last year, Goetz was the only Latina in her department among predominantly White faculty. She often felt isolated and didn’t feel like she received support from the head of her department. At the end of the year, her contract wasn’t renewed and she had to find a new school.

Cordero also struggles to find substantial support.

“I felt like people throw resources at us as teachers, like, ‘here’s a free trial [for an online resource],’ but we aren’t really told how to navigate through a pandemic,” Cordero says. “Sometimes I feel frustrated with the lack of direction.”

Healthy Coping Mechanisms 

As they dive into the new academic year in person, Latinx teachers are learning from the past year and trying to find healthier coping mechanisms. Cordero has taken up yoga and is connecting with other teachers at her school for support.

Gutierrez turned to social media to connect with other teachers who are sharing their experiences. But most importantly, she believes in individual therapy as the best resource for all teachers.

“I keep saying this because it is true: teachers need therapy,” Gutierrez says.

While these teachers are passionate about their students’ learning, the past year taught them that their mental health is essential for both their and their students’ success.

For Goetz, taking care of her mental health is an ongoing process.

“I have to remind myself that I can’t help my students if I’m not helping myself,” Goetz says. “I can’t take care of my students if I’m not taking care of myself.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Baker CN, Peele H, Daniels M, et al. The experience of COVID-19 and its impact on teachers’ mental health, coping, and teachingSchool Psych Rev. Published online March 4, 2021. doi:10.1080/2372966x.2020.1855473