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Darktober: How to Help Staff Cope

photo of a woman wearing glasses holding the hand of another woman in distress

Nestled between the energized period of back to school and a well-deserved winter break, the month of October can be a hard time of year for teachers with many experiencing what’s become known as Darktober.

Darktober

In October, the change in seasons becomes apparent as days seem to get shorter. Some employees may now be traveling to and from work in the dark, losing the benefit of the added sunlight and vitamin D intake.

In schools, the newness of the year has started to wear off as challenges in the classroom have revealed themselves. The energy felt at the beginning of the school year has waned, and both teachers and students begin to feel the fatigue of the academic cycle while waiting for a break that is still far away.

During October, the strain of classroom challenges, fatigue from fewer daylight hours, and the interruption of classroom routines due to testing and district breaks is a challenge for teachers and students alike. It’s natural to feel the stress of the season and to experience the October slump known as Darktober.

HR Can Help Support Staff

October is a tough time of year for educators and district staff, and there are things HR can do to help navigate the challenges associated with the month. Some ideas include:

  • Acknowledge the difficulty. Many teachers, especially those new to the profession, may feel isolated or believe they are the only ones experiencing the slump.
  • Create a community. Encourage staff to reach out to support each other. An easy way to foster this sense of community is by encouraging weekly team lunches, even if it is just as simple as meeting together in a classroom.
  • Promote your employee assistance program (EAP). Many organizations offer an EAP in their benefits packages as a cost-effective way to offer free resources and services to employees, including limited counseling by third-party professionals.
  • Communicate about wellness programs that encourage flu-shots and other preventative measures to combat seasonal illnesses.
  • Consider implementing convenience benefits that are typically little or no cost to the employer such as on-site dry cleaning, grocery delivery, or house cleaning.
  • Encourage campus leaders to check in on teachers, offer help where needed, and have mentors reach out to new teachers regularly this month.

Encourage Staff to Practice Self-Care

While HR and district administrators can create a supportive work environment, they can also provide ideas and strategies for staff to reduce stress on a personal level. Some ideas to share include:

  • Make time for relaxation. This doesn’t have to be an entire day off. It can simply be finding small moments in your regular schedule to do something you enjoy.
  • Take some time to clear off your desk. Sometimes resetting your work environment and getting organized helps relieve stress.
  • Plan grading strategically. A good practice can be to avoid tests on Fridays and during the week when grades are due. This can help to manage your schedule by building in time for make-up work and reducing the amount of last-minute work.
  • Embrace the holidays. Presenting new information to students on days filled with distractions can lead to frustration. A better plan could be to use those days for an activity or simply as time to review material already covered.
  • Address expectations and determine if you need to adjust or maintain routines and procedures. Keep doing what is working well and think of ways to improve areas that may still be challenging.

Start Now

Don’t wait until teachers are feeling the effect of Darktober to step in. Incorporating some of these tips and strategies now can help reduce stress before it becomes unmanageable.

For more resources, check out these blog posts:

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Christine Zenteno
Christine Zenteno
HR and Compensation Consultant

Christine Zenteno joined the HR Services team as an HR and compensation consultant in 2022. She assists with compensation plan development, training, and other HR projects. Prior to TASB, Zenteno worked in the public sector for state and city government entities in human resources roles specializing in staffing and compensation.

Zenteno holds a bachelor’s degree in international business from St. Edward’s University and is a PHR.

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TASB HR Services supports HR leadership in Texas schools through membership offerings in specialized training, consulting, and other services.