By Elzy Muñoz, Teacher-Mentor
Whether you’re a new teacher, fresh out of college, or a veteran like me, teaching during Covid has been the great equalizer. We are all first-year teachers in 2020, and with that comes new levels of stress that I personally haven’t experienced in years. No longer am I able to compartmentalize my work life and my personal life—teaching has taken over my home, literally. Honestly, finding a good work-life balance is already a daunting task for many teachers, but when your home becomes your classroom and you are constantly contacted by your students and their parents through email, phone calls, text messages, Class Dojo and Google Classroom comments… it all becomes almost too much to bear!
Your school might have a policy similar to mine, where we have 24 hours to respond to calls or messages. But we all know that siren’s call of notifications from our laptops and phones, which never seem to let up. It feels necessary to respond in the moment, lest the new messages get lost under the wave of new ones coming your way.
So where is the boundary? According to a study featured in Psychology Today, people who work from home end up
living at work working more hours, which can lead to more familial conflict. Fortunately for me, I am a single woman, with no kids or husband, although my boyfriend has stood witness to my bouts of disappearances under a pile of work and my overwhelming stress levels. How teachers with full time families manage it all, is beyond me!
So how do you set boundaries as a teacher who is overcome with guilt or stress at the thought of not working into the evenings and weekends?
1) Stop feeling guilty
By dint of the fact that you’re a teacher, you are already contributing so much to society, so take a moment to celebrate yourself. You deserve rest. Say it with me. “I deserve rest.” Life is too short for the anxiety spirals that take over our days and have only increased due to this year’s many crises. It’s time to recognize that your quality of life and mental health MATTER. Try talking to yourself as you would a friend, and never let yourself talk to yourself in a way that’s not kind and compassionate.
2) Set a cut-off work time and stick to it
Working after school hours is, unfortunately, a reality of being a teacher. It just comes with the territory. However, it does not have to define your whole life. Set up a boundary. No work after 6pm, for example. Work for an hour every night before bed. No weekend work until Sunday. Once you’ve come up with your rule. Stick to it. Set a reminder on your phone if you need some accountability. Tell your partner so they can also remind you, if that’s helpful to you. Whatever you do, just stick to your set time.
3) Get yourself moving
It’s been well studied that exercise helps ease depression and anxiety and improve overall mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise does not just mean a structured program, but can mean any form of physical activity that works your muscles. Something as simple as a leisurely walk or taking the stairs instead of an elevator can be just what your body needs to get started. All you need is 30 minutes a day and that can be broken up into smaller increments if necessary.
4) Be mindful
I know, I know, mindfulness is such a buzzword nowadays, but honestly, it works. I currently start my day with meditation from the Calm app because it was mandated by our school and we have to do it as part of our morning meeting. I was not looking forward to it initially but it’s been such an excellent way to start my day and I look forward to my morning meditations with my kiddos. Using meditation apps is an easy and often free way to incorporate some of that daily inner peace into the rest of your day.
5) Start a ritual. Book yourself in for some self-care.
One way to be sure that you’ll step away from your work is to book something else in, but make sure it’s something that you’ll look forward to! This could be meditating or exercising, as mentioned above, or it could even be turning off your brain for a bit by tuning into your favorite TV show, playing an instrument, or gardening. Syncing up with friends or joining a group, like a book club, can help you stay accountable and ensure that you’re more likely to engage.
Our founder recently wrote about the mental health benefits of joining a group, and every week, Attentive Teaching offers Attentive Talks, a free virtual teacher meet up where everyone gets a load off their backs and picks up a few new tips for self-regulation, dealing with annoying parents, or managing your principal. (You can sign up here, or join the group on Facebook!)
I know it can be difficult to set these boundaries up for yourself. Some days will be harder than others. However, as a teacher, we know setting our kids up for success is Teaching 101. So let’s set ourselves up for success now. Teacher burn out is real. Our kids need us healthy. Our families need us healthy. We need us healthy. So let’s start now.