In the years since finishing her undergrad at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Mandy Froehlich worked to position herself to best help educators.
A 2007 elementary education graduate, she spent the better part of a decade teaching in Fox Valley schools and working toward two master’s degrees—one in educational administration from Cardinal Stritch University and another in information and communication technology from UW-Stout.
From there she worked in various roles in schools, including a technology integrator with the Oshkosh school district and as an innovation and technology director in Ripon. She turned her attention to consulting and writing books a little more than a year ago—not long before the coronavirus pandemic first exploded overseas.
What she couldn’t have seen coming was how much her expertise would line up with the events of 2020.
“I’ve joked quite a bit about how I was almost professionally bred for pandemics because my professional area has been in technology and my professional interest has been in mental health,” she said. “It kind of runs the gamut encompassing everything for the pandemic.”
Froehlich, an alumna and an adjunct instructor at UW Oshkosh for about the past six years, continues to consult with schools across North America, mostly around matters of technology. She’s also published four books since 2018 focused on educator mental health, a topic of increased importance as the COVID-19 continues to cause chaos in education.
“I’ve been talking about educator mental health for four years. It’s not just a pandemic problem,” she said. “This has been an issue the whole time, it’s just the pandemic has made it a little more highlighted.”
Her books include The Fire Within: Lessons from Defeat That Have Inspired a Passion for Learning and Divergent EDU: Challenging Assumptions and Limitations to Create a Culture of Innovation, both released in 2018. Then this year came Reignite the Flames: Finding Our Passion and Purpose for Learning Among the Embers in May, and its quasi-companion piece The Educators Matchbook: A Weekly Guide to Reigniting Your Love of Teaching, Building Resilience, and Fighting Burnout and Disengagement, published last month.
There are a lot of fire metaphors there—plus a hint of dystopian YA novel imagery and wordplay. (“A Hunger Games vibe can very much describe education some days,” she said with a laugh.) The reason is Froehlich herself felt like her passion for teaching was, at least for a time, extinguished in those early years.
“I actually became a burned-out teacher and that’s why I left the classroom,” she said. “That’s why I talk about a lot of the things I do. It’s because I went through it.”
She went on to learn about what leads to situations like hers. She researched why teachers become disengaged and figured out strategies for educators to use to avoid it. One finding was many people want to become teachers because, quite simply, they want to have a positive impact on the world and help people. It’s like a moral obligation. Then some enter the workforce and find there are all sorts of barriers emerge and over time it wears them down.
“Disengagement is really not about what you do, it’s about how much you love what you do,” she said. “You can have teachers who are doing all the things teachers do and still be disengaged.”
Worn down teachers also then struggle with innovation. Instead of innovating, they’re just focused on getting through each day. It’s a rut that can definitely be run into during a school year like this one.
“In the pandemic what’s happening is teachers feel like they teach best in front of students,” she said. “When they’re there to make those personal connections and take those first-graders’ hugs and get on their knees and look a student in the eye and have that connection with them. Right now they can’t do that so that is stopping that feeling that they’re doing the best they possibly can, which challenges their moral obligation to create better circumstances—and that causes the disengagement.”
Froehlich said she’s done writing books—but said that after releasing two back in 2018, so it may just be a matter of waiting for the right inspiration. From here she plans to continue her consulting work, occasional writing on mandyfroehlich.com, carrying on with speaking engagements and co-hosting the podcast Teachers’ Aid on the Bam! Radio network.
She’s also teaching a graduate-level educational leadership course called Technology, Culture and Learning at UWO this semester—doing her part to keep the flames of young educators burning bright.