Retired SWFL teachers train FGCU education majors on fighting stress

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Lee County classroom with masked students. Credit: WINK News

Two retired Southwest Florida teachers opened up to WINK News about their struggles in the classroom and how they’re working together to combat teacher stress and burnout.

Andrea Trank taught high school for 15 years and received the Golden Apple for her work with students. Nowadays, she wears a device that tracks her heart rhythm variability, and she believes it is the key to keeping teachers in the classroom. She has learned firsthand the danger of stress to a teacher’s long-term health.

“I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease,” Trank said. “The chronic stress, over time, of being the best teacher that I could be was too much for my nervous system. So, I left the field of teaching.”

Trank believes the stresses of teaching contributed to her disease. After she left the profession, she found HeartMath.

“It teaches you every day how to replenish your own internal nervous system through some very simple tools,” Trank said.

She now coaches education majors at Florida Gulf Coast University via Zoom while they’re interning at local public schools. The theory behind HeartMath is fairly simple: You produce cortisol when stressed, and the cortisol attacks your nervous system. When that happens, you become incoherent and can’t effectively teach.

“They would focus their breathing and attention on the heart,” Trank said. “Then, the next step is you activate what we call an uplifting emotion.

In one minute or less, you calm down and return to teaching.

Diane Kratt, a fellow retired teacher who now oversees FGCU’s education majors, was the one who hired Trank.

“I can remember certain instances in particular, where, you know, I would end the day in tears,” Kratt said. “I started interviewing our students… they wanted to know how to manage their own mental health.”

A national poll of educators this spring found that 55% want to retire sooner than planned. Burnout was the top reason cited. FGCU is only one year into the HeartMath program and it’s already working.

“When they practice doing the techniques and practices… they felt less stressed, they were more easily able to get into coherence,” Kratt said.

Together, the two women hope they can help educators be proactive with their wellness and keep quality teachers in Southwest Florida children’s classrooms, free of stress. The HeartMath program is now a required class for all FGCU education majors.

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