7 Tips For (Much Needed) Teacher Self-Care
Being a teacher, you feel like you are in a constant juggling act. While managing school expectations, you are also dealing with the high standards of your principal, pushy parents and students who may not be motivated. All of this is on top of your own beliefs about education and how to best reach and connect with your classes.
So what’s a busy teacher to do when at the end of a long day, your voice is sore and your feet are tired? We know this feeling all too well and recommend these seven essential tips to regain focus on yourself and your well-being.
1 – Practice yoga or meditation
Taking a few minutes each day to pay attention to your breathing and movement can relax your busy mind. Yoga and meditation have the power to alleviate stress, recenter your thoughts and stretch tired muscles.
Simple meditation: sit comfortably with your back straight in a quiet place in your house. Focus on inhaling and exhaling while mentally scanning your body. Start at the top of your head and work your way down, noticing specific areas that feel tense and which areas are at ease. Once you finish this scan (it should take around 20 seconds), visualize how your body overall feels at this point in time. Begin to scan again and if your mind veers off course, redirect your thoughts back to the task at hand.
You can also bring these techniques into your classroom so your students will also benefit from these practices. Consider starting class with a short meditation or chair yoga to help students focus their energy back on the present lesson.
2 – After school, wait at least an hour before starting to work
We completely understand the pressure to begin school work right when you walk through the door. The sooner you start, the quicker you will finish, right? From our experience, this can lead to burnout and actually take you longer to complete the work. Giving yourself an hour in between class and diving right into your “homework” can actually increase productivity. According to behavioral scientist Nir Eyal*, “good breaks reduce mental fatigue and boost brain function.” Whether you have a headache from loud children and need a few moments of complete silence (we’ve all been there) or you want to close your eyes for a bit, don’t second-guess your break. Give yourself at least an hour and when you decide you are ready to sit down to work, your focus will be recentered and your ideas will be fresh. During that time, you may have even thought of new creative activities to include in your lesson plans or an opener that will capture attention and silence noisy classes.
3 – Dedicate one weekend day without any school work
Along the same lines of taking at least an hour break, don’t do school work every day of your weekend. If you still have papers to grade or tests to create, choose one weekend day to work and stick with this. Don’t allow your work to spill over into the second weekend day or you will start to feel overwhelmed and dread going back to school on Monday morning. Psychology professor Alejandro Lleras* discovered that, “deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused.” In simpler words, this means taking time to re-analyze what you want to achieve overall and how you can accomplish this. A moment of genius may strike you when you are relaxing on the couch or playing with your dog outside on your off day. If you were constantly working, you wouldn’t be able to turn off your brain for a bit and let your goals “deactivate.”
4 – Take some “you” time
This may not be too surprising but focusing on yourself can boost your mental and general health. Each day, work into your busy schedule an activity or hobby that makes you happy. This can be as simple as taking a bath or treating yourself to a relaxing spa day. If exercise is more your thing, set aside time to take a walk around the block or turn this into a full outrun. For some people, sitting by the ocean or moving water can release tension and help them regain clarity and peace. Music also has the power to put you into a better mood so blast those tunes and don’t hold back if you begin to dance.
By taking time for yourself, you can work out bottled up emotions that you may not even realize you were holding onto. If you ever feel like you have shorter patience for your class or a loved one, consider if you have been neglecting your own wellbeing. “When you spend all your time filling other people’s cups, it’s likely yours will run empty.” ** Dedicate thirty minutes each day to doing something you love and you will become happier inside and outside of the classroom.
5 – Make the most of summer break
Although taking on a full-time job during summer break can be appealing, we advise against this. After finishing nine exhausting months spent working long days beyond just classroom instruction, you need (and deserve) a well-earned break. If you can financially afford it, don’t fill your summer days with a 9-5 position. Take a trip somewhere you have been wanting to visit during the school year or try out a new hobby. This will help you continue to develop as an individual and not just be in constant teacher or work mode. The summer is the perfect time to reset, clear your head and prepare for upcoming classes.
6 – Stay hydrated
When you are rushing from class to class, you may be sipping on your coffee but forget to drink the most important beverage: water. Fill up a water bottle at the beginning of the school day and try to finish this by your last class. Drinking water allows your body to function better by lubricating your joints and saving your voice after an especially loud lesson.
To spice up your average H2O, add lemon, lime or orange. If you want to recreate your latest spa trip (after reading tip #4), put some cucumber slices and pamper yourself a bit.
7 – When you hit a wall, call it a night
We all know the appeal of powering through the writer’s block, hand cramps and tired eyes. What if we told you you will actually be more productive in the morning? According to research performed by Psychology Today***, “taking breaks refreshes the mind, replenishes your mental resources, and helps you become more creative.” Additionally, “‘aha moments’ came more often to those who took breaks.”
When you feel like it is time to stop, shut off the computer, put down the pencil and close your eyes. This will actually help you be more productive when you return, resulting in increased efficiency and focus.
So, next time you are feeling overwhelmed, drink some water, take a deep breath and don’t feel guilty about stopping. You will come back refreshed and you may accomplish your best work yet. Make your well-being a priority and you will then be able to fully immerse yourself into the tasks at hand (with some necessary dance or snack breaks of course).