By Cindy Schwartz, Co-founder and executive director of secondary education
What is self care? When is there even time for a teacher to focus on themselves either during the school day or once they go home? We are constantly lesson planning, marking homework and assessments, meeting or calling parents, attending faculty and department meetings, completing PD credits, caring for our own families and now dealing with the pandemic and remote learning which most of us have not been adequately trained for!
We are exhausted. We are scared. We are frustrated. We feel neglected and not heard. And, many of us are drastically underpaid. Many of you might be questioning if you should change your profession.
But…we love children. And we do love teaching. We know that we can make a difference in a child’s life. But now, we are dealing with a pandemic that is forcing many of us to choose between our work and our life – literally.
What does a teacher do?
Mental health experts tell us that if we do not take care of ourselves both physically, mentally and emotionally, we are not going to be the best teachers we can be.
So, the teachers at Attentive Teaching brainstormed what teachers could do for themselves to unwind. How can teachers recharge, ease their spiraling minds and bring peace, calm and joy to themselves and ultimately to their students? How can we put into practice the wise words of naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, “Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify…”
But even Aristotle recognized that there is a difference between knowing what’s good for us, and doing what’s good for us. The former he called virtue, and the latter he called practical wisdom, which he said can only truly be acquired through the deliberate practice of emotional and social skills.
So here are some simple, daily practices that we hope will help you, as teachers, take good care of yourselves during these challenging times:
Staying organized is a form of self care
It may sound cliché, but it works! Running around in the morning marking a few more papers or throwing folders in your book bag will only bring tumult and stress. Your book bag should be packed and ready the night before!
That means that you’ll have time to have breakfast, the most important meal of the day at home. Don’t stop on your way to school because that will put you in rush mode. Unless of course you’re able to leave yourself plenty of time to do this.
Teaching remotely? Yes, have breakfast – always. You’re not you when you’re hungry.
Unless it’s a family emergency, talk to friends after 2:26!
Driving to school? Consider not talking on the phone. Setting boundaries is important, and for many of us, the drive to work is your time to center yourself before the day. Remember, you will be talking all day when you get to school, so why talk on the way to school? Give those pipes a break. And the same thing goes for teaching remotely. healthy morning isolation will do you good once you’re looking down the barrel of 30 boxes displaying the virtual faces of your students.
Avoid negative dialogue with colleagues
When colleagues talk negatively about school, students, parents, and administrators — don’t go there! Negativity breeds more negativity, so don’t engage with it. Make it a rule for yourself, and if you feel the need, share that rule with your colleagues.
If you’re having trouble disengaging, try to visualize waves in the ocean – go below the surface to a quieter, more subtle place. Your students need you to be positive and calm.
Have a “no work” lunch
This is vital. Just like our students we need time to chill and decompress.
You are doing yourself a great disservice if you do not take time to eat slowly without stress. After all, the French take a full lunch hour to eat and enjoy their meal, and they seem pretty relaxed!
Use your free periods for extra help, or your hall duty assignments, but try not to meet with students during your lunch break unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Use breathing exercises during the day
Yoga instructors and mental health counselors are right. During a stressful moment in the classroom, you can take a few minutes to have you and your students take time to focus on the breath. You’ll be surprised to see how many students, regardless of their age, will put their heads down and be quiet. This simple practice has the ability to settle down even the most challenging of students, and it gives you time to self-soothe so you can be more present for your students.
I’ve done it with my 8th graders and my 11th graders and both ages loved it and asked to do it often! Especially, after lunch! Try it
Play music during the day
Music stimulates the dopamine receptors in your brain, rewarding you for simply doing something nice. I’ve found that by consciously choosing to play more music throughout my day, my mood is elevated, my thoughts are positive, and my mind is much more clear.
You can even include music as part of your lesson plan, regardless of the subject matter. We recently published a post about how to incorporate Rock n’ Roll into the lesson plan to give you a few ideas. And the best part is, you’ll not only see your own stress levels drop, but you’ll notice a change in your students, too. I do it all the time – connect your curriculum with the arts!
Join a teacher support group or start one!
Who doesn’t need a friend who understands? We all do. Teachers need to vent, share ideas and strategies, cry and feel validated as an essential part of self care.
Our profession is both physical and emotional. We are responsible for the education and mental well being of hundreds of students each year. Weekly or even daily support is vital to your physical and mental health!
Limit your extracurricular activities
I know that many of us need that extra cash – but between faculty meetings, extra help, parent meetings, whether virtual or physical, it can all take a toll. Be mindful of what makes sense and what stresses you. Eliminate any extra curricular activity that stresses you. If you can’t, then find a way to feel gratitude for it and change your mindset to lessen your stress. We recommend going home after school if you can!
Take a walk during your lunch period
Mental health experts consistently tell us that physical exercise is very healthy for us and a great stress reducer. So try to move your body during the work day. Go for a short walk during your lunch break, or engage your students in “brain breaks” by getting everyone to stand up and do some stretches or jumping jacks during the day.
Make dinners that you look forward to
Food is a joy – a pleasure that should be enjoyed.
Your body needs good nourishment and your mind needs something to look forward to! Come up with creative meals to cook that are healthy and tasty. You deserve a chance to dine, not just to eat.
Only mark one set of papers at night
I know – you say that isn’t possible! But, it is if you change your mindset about having to get everything done at night. That was my mistake for years – how much more family fun I could have had if I hadn’t felt that my night was for completing work. Work is for work. Home is for being home. Try changing how you see your night time.
Watch a favorite tv show or read your book
Again, night time is for joy, enjoyment, and recharging. Do what feels good to do. It’s been a long day and tomorrow will be a long day, too.
Create a sacred space in your home for meditation
Taking time to cultivate mindfulness, peacefulness, and self-reflection is essential to self care. It maybe won’t be easy at first, but all you need to do is carve out 10 to 15 minutes everyday to this practice. Having a “sacred space” at home, a space that’s dedicated to calm rather than just another place to plop down and grade papers, will help motivate you to get started.
Make sleeping well a priority
Your brain needs to recharge every night while you’re asleep, sorting all of the information it’s taken in the day before. Getting a good night’s rest should be an imperative every night.
Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour each night before bed to prepare yourself to rest. Try not to look at screens, as the blue light can affect the health of your sleep. Maybe light a candle and use lamplight instead of harsh overhead light. Rub your body with lotion that smells good and calms you. Meditate or read or spend time with your partner before closing your eyes. If you have trouble relaxing, try a soothing app like Calm, or take natural supplements like Melatonin. Aim for 7-8 hours every night.
And remember, each day is the first day of the rest of your life…
Have a great day at school tomorrow. We’ve got your back!