We are in a weird time in education. Not only are the pressures on the profession at an all-time high, but teachers by nature put their heart and soul into their work 24/7 while the school year is in session (and a lot of it often carries over when the year is not in session as well). Teacher burnout rates are high and teacher self-care has never been more important.
The teacher burnout signs are there, but way too often educators overlook the basic things they can do to accomplish effective teacher self care practices and aid in teacher burnout prevention.
I remember learning in one of my first years of teaching that the stress level of an educator is second only to that of an air traffic controller. While that statistic has changed over the years, the job of a teacher is still consistently in the top 5 of the most stressful jobs.
This is why knowing self-care tips that are actually manageable and help build new habits into the busy schedules of teachers is vital to help tone down the negative thoughts and secondary traumatic stress of staff members. Compassion fatigue is real when in the care of students, but the good news is that there are many realistic self-care activities that can fit into different aspects of our days (from within school hours to well after the end of the school day.)
Unrelenting teacher stress is becoming universal in school systems around the world.
People who are not in education (especially if they don’t have young children) often roll their eyes at this. How hard can it be, right? Unfortunately, this mentality is often filtered into our classrooms where teachers are stressed out and support for teacher self-care is intermittent at best.
As teachers, we give, give, give, and often the return we see in those little moments makes it all worthwhile; other times, burning the candle at both ends leads to teacher burnout…and when a teacher burns out, no good comes from it in the classroom.
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Fortunately, we have built-in breaks to give us time to recharge. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t schedule time to take care of your health before a school break comes along. So many people don’t understand (or appreciate) that teaching is a 24/7 job for 10 months of the year. We are educators, life coaches, substitute parents, mentors…the list goes on and on.
We are not just teaching our curriculum, but life lessons and soft skills like collaboration and critical thinking. The role of the teacher has expanded to include training that used to be learned in the home and all eyes are on us when a student is not performing where the set standard says they should be (nevermind any of the mishmashes that could be happening outside of the walls of our schools; those elements are certainly not taken into consideration as often as they should be).
So yes, as a teacher, you EARN your time off and it is 110% necessary to prevent teacher burnout. Teacher self-care and having a non-negotiable self-care routine have never been more relevant than it is in this day and age.
The counterargument is that we are living in a stressful time and every job is harder than it used to be. While this may be true, some of the statistics are staggering. According to a study by the University of Missouri, 93% of elementary school teachers report experiencing a consistently high level of stress, and this was before COVID-19.
That means only 7% of the teachers surveyed said they had either lower levels of stress or had coping skills that correlated with the stress level that they were undertaking on a daily basis.
The summarizing article by Tim Walker states, that when teachers are given coping skills to help counteract stressful situations, they are incredibly open to the techniques that may help them. One of the researchers of the study, Keith Herman, is often shocked at the number of teachers who are unaware of techniques that he finds to be extremely basic in regard to reacting to stressful situations.
By increasing the self-care tools in the teacher toolbox, it can be said that the statistics of not necessarily the high level of stress, but the appropriate coping skills for those stressful situations could be improved. This is not an isolated study. A quick Google search has multiple that pop right up and all state the same thing: teachers are stressed out and the teacher burnout rate is high.
To put it in the most cliche terms possible, teachers need to learn to put on their own oxygen mask first.
Herman and his counterpart of the study Wendy Reinke wrote a book titled, Stress Management for Teachers: A Proactive Guide (ad) to help teachers develop very real, tangible strategies to help in their day-to-day when it comes to stressful situations. The best part is the focus on teachers, as we do have a different role than so many other professions.
There are a lot of books and techniques out there, but when you come across one that is beneficial for a teacher, it is the epitome of a game-changer.
We know that teaching is stressful and so much of the overall climate must change for that pendulum to start swinging back to a middle ground. The fact of the matter is, though, that so many teachers trudge on and push forward without taking the time to ground themselves while they are in the thick of everything. There’s never enough time to start a new habit, especially if it has to do with self-care strategies. I am also guilty of this. We push towards the next break, knowing we can just relax then.
Are we truly being the best versions of ourselves (both inside AND outside of the classroom) if we are only taking care of ourselves on the breaks? We know that weekends are often shot as we catch up with the week that has passed and prepare for the week ahead, so it seems like those extended days off are our only chances.
Why do we have this mentality? Shouldn’t teacher self-care be at the top of the list for each of us to prevent burnout? Or do we not recognize this until it is too late?
Why do we put our own self-care behind the self-care of everyone else? Isn’t our emotional health important, too?
Jennifer Gonzalez has a fantastic article titled: Why It’s So Hard for Teachers to Take Care of Themselves. She states much of what we already know (it’s part of the job, we are in demand 24/7, etc.) but she has a really fantastic analogy she uses with the help of Angela Watson.
We know that if an airplane is going down, we put our own oxygen masks on first before we help others. Why aren’t we doing this in our day-to-day lives as teachers??
Are we making a difficult time even more challenging by ignoring a defined self-care plan in our personal lives?
What can be done in regard to teacher self care in preventing burnout?
As teachers, we are yes-men.
We so often take on more than any person should because we feel compelled to. It can range from reasons from feeling sympathetic to a particular situation right up to being “voluntold” by the administration.
It is not a sustainable system. We cannot “live for our breaks” or “sleep when we’re dead”.
We legitimately cannot be our best teacher selves if this is the mentality we collectively have. We just can’t.
We need to take care of ourselves, but so often we don’t know where to start. The gurus suggest a first step like yoga and taking a certain amount of time for yourself every day. That is considered extreme by many in the mindset of, “There aren’t enough hours in the day”. We have a hard time wrapping our heads around something like this in a way to take better care of ourselves.
Quiet time? What’s that? Healthy boundaries? Too little time.
However, there are some simple things you can do that ARE more manageable and can lay the foundation for the more “intricate” teacher self-care techniques (and they don’t involve a spa day!)
Try a Mindfulness App When You First Wake Up
I say app, but you can find these on YouTube and other such places. When you first wake up in the morning, you can listen to a brief recording that helps you correctly “set your mind” for the day. Many people report feeling more relaxed and rejuvenated in starting their day. You have short options, like this one:
Or can take it one step further and sign up for Audible (with 2 free books) and try out one of their mindfulness programs (ad):
Create a Schedule and Stick to It:
This is a hard habit to get into, but it moves mountains once you get into the groove and is a great way to reduce your stress and reclaim your time. The best way to do this when first starting out is to get an hourly planner, like this one (ad).
You take your due diligence to map out time for everything you need to do. I generally highlight when I am at work and then schedule everything within (and outside) of that time. If you really find yourself struggling with time, schedule EVERYTHING (meaning, what time you plan to leave to go home, how much time you will allow yourself to work on grades, etc.), and then you STICK to it. This could mean anything from your lesson plans to creating office hours or even managing your lunch breaks. Seriously, finding a daily routine is one of the best ways to not feel like you were backed over by a truck at the end of the day.
Our biggest struggle when it comes to scheduling is that we don’t stick to the things that will lead to teacher burnout (like::ahem:: leaving on time or only spending a certain amount of time grading). Give yourself deadlines and then make sure you give yourself enough realistic time to meet them. This is especially vital if you are teaching in a remote learning setting. It is really hard to “turn it off” when your commute is down the stairs.
The first piece of this working is holding yourself to the time you allot…if you need more, schedule more at a different time. The second piece is when someone asks you to take care of something, see when you can schedule it. If you cannot schedule it, then just say no or ask if it can be completed at a different time when you do have more scheduling available.
School leaders giving you a hard time? Physically show them your schedule and ask where they would suggest you take care of it without the quality of your classroom being decreased. You can’t help the struggling student if you’re not focused on the most important component of a teacher: a strong foundation for your classroom.
Make Sure You’re Doing the Basics
This one is so simple, but it’s huge….and it’s one that I know I struggle with. Do you get at least 10,000 steps a day? Drink enough water? Eat whole foods? If you do…fantastic! SO MANY of us let this stuff slide because we have too many other things to worry about.
If you find yourself in this camp, then SCHEDULE the time to make sure you’re taking care of it….pack yourself the appropriate lunch and a large water bottle, like this one (ad). Use your new Audible subscription and listen to a good book as you take a short walk. These are the basic needs of the human body. If you’re not taking care of them, you’re setting yourself up to crumble at the foundation. Put your body first!
These three things may seem simplistic, but they are the basic tenets of counteracting teacher burnout and leading you down the path of teacher self-care. If you find that you already do these things, or you get into a rhythm of doing them well, then take it further. Check out that book by Herman and Reinke or start an exercise program (or find a way to multitask, like with this seated elliptical trainer (ad)
If you’re doing ALL of these and you’re still finding you’re overwhelmed, remember the mantra Work Smarter, Not Harder. Look at your teaching style….honestly, how much are you putting unnecessarily on yourself? Student-centered learning in and of itself reduces an EXTREME amount of stress (and busywork grading) and your scores that stress you out will improve because it’s differentiating for the needs of each student.
Water: A simple fix we can ALL do
Teachers are notorious for not taking care of themselves.
This isn’t necessarily intentional. There is just too much going on during the school day to remember to do all of the things.
And then we get home, and so many of us who intended to exercise or cook a healthy dinner end up throwing that out the window.
This isn’t always the case, and certainly not an everyday experience (let’s give ourselves some credit), but at some point many teachers find themselves getting into some bad habits in the name of putting it all out there for their classrooms.
The number one offender? Water.
It seems so simple, but most teachers do not drink enough water throughout the day.
There can be any number of reasons for this. Time passes without realizing it, you have a no food/drink policy in your school, or maybe you just don’t realize the difference when you drink enough water.
Of course, there’s always the bathroom issue as well (which is what most people have said is their reasoning).
I mean, I get it. I remember my mom asking me, completely baffled once, what you do if you have a bathroom emergency. My answer ranged from “hope there’s someone walking by” to “hold it and hope for the best”. I had a former colleague use the restroom in the middle of class due to a lack of another option and a fight broke out while he was gone. No Bueno.
I want to discuss why we need to change this water mentality because of our health and some options you can look into to try and eliminate the barriers you have now.
Benefits of Water for Teachers
Yesterday I was listening to a podcast and the topic was how to make your morning routine work for you and it got me thinking about this topic.
You are meant to drink half your weight in ounces of water each day. While we grew up hearing 8 8oz. glasses, this is a more individualized approach because every body is different. While you should always discuss any health issues or questions with your physician, this is a decent goal to set and tailor your water intake to you.
There is a great article on Healthline written by Joe Leech, MS titled, “7 Science-Based Health Benefits of Drinking Enough Water“. By scrolling through his data, it is obvious why teachers need to make sure they are hydrated:
- Maximize Physical Performance
- Major Effect on Energy Levels and Brain Function
- Prevent and Treat Headaches
- Help Relieve Constipation
- Help Treat Kidney Stones
- Prevent Hangovers (Maybe not relevant to the classroom, but it helps if you decompress with an adult beverage at night or on the weekends!)
- Help With Weight Loss
If you have dealt with any of this, especially while in the classroom, you know how much of a game-changer it would be to simply drink more water to alleviate some of those issues.
Drinking more water in the classroom
Now, in my own experience, when I began to drink the proper amount of water (which was drastic…I went from drinking a few cups of coffee and maybe a regular-sized bottle of water a day to half my weight in ounces), my trips to the bathroom increased and I started having some symptoms of electrolyte imbalance.
This isn’t uncommon, but it can be countered.
For starters, when your body adjusts to being used to that water, your trips to the bathroom do regulate. I might suggest starting this process over a weekend so you start to feel your body out.
When in school, I would swap schedules with my co-workers. I had all my team members’ schedules and vice-versa. We would know who we could call if we needed someone to cover for a few minutes while active in the classroom. (If nothing else, that short walk to the restroom could be an excellent opportunity for a quick brain break as well). This could also be a fun way to begin a challenge with co-workers regarding the water you drink in a day. Many places host a “Biggest Loser” competition for weight loss. This could be an interesting venture as well.
If you find yourself starting to have some of the symptoms of electrolyte imbalance, which is especially common if you eat a low-carb diet, you can add some drink enhancements to your water or even some Himalayan pink salt. Both of these can help (another option is drinking some pickle juice if that is more your style!) (ad)
For me, I know one of the reasons I wouldn’t drink enough water was because I couldn’t see it. Once I actively begin drinking water, I often start craving it more and more, but I need to know what I’m working with visually.
When I first started this process (before my body began telling me how much I needed to drink), I bought the bottle of Smart Water below. Since it was clear and an entire liter, I could gauge where I was in the process.
You can buy them in bulk on Amazon if you don’t want to reuse them multiple times (ad).
Once you get used to the process (and know where to refill), you may want to invest in a good, sturdy water bottle that can withstand life in your bag. Be mindful of the ounces that it holds and know how many refills you should strive for in a day. (ad)
Another option is writing it down. Here is a great planner insert that has the water level on it so you can keep track of the amount you have guzzled down each day.
But seriously, our bodies are 70% water. We need to make sure we are giving ourselves what we need to be at peak performance. If we aren’t doing the absolute basics for the foundation of our lives, then we can be sure that teacher burnout and other health issues will be coming our way.
What can administration do?
Putting safeguards in place and being very open with staff is a good beginning to eliminating the teacher burnout issue within a school. However, if this process is moving forward to remove the school from a negative situation, then more care needs to be placed on teachers already in the system.
With the mental health connotations surrounding teacher burnout, especially with the overlap of depression, counseling should be available if psychological attention is deemed necessary. Helping teachers suffering at this magnitude is vital in helping bring them back from the burnout level they have reached.
This is an excellent way to begin to focus on the importance of mental health and removing the stigma behind it. Too many people try to mask their mental health symptoms for fear of retribution or ostracisation by their co-workers or administration.
This fear needs to become non-existent if we truly want to help our peers. We need to have peer-to-peer opportunities with mental health training and a large-scale understanding of what to do if we see someone suffering (even if that person is us).
It is also important to take a macroscopic view of the school culture and determine risk factors for teacher burnout within that particular setting. Stress affects every person differently, but finding triggers in procedures or general ways of being can certainly make a difference if amended appropriately.
Eliminating it on a scale outside of your own person will only be successful when all stakeholders (teachers, administration, etc.) get to the root of teacher burnout and make overarching adjustments to educational culture.
Administrators must also keep teachers at the forefront of decision-making. Having their say in what professional development workshops will be the most helpful, having open collaboration when coming up with campus events, and creating a culture that respects boundaries for life outside of work are just some simple examples that will make teachers feel heard and thus, feel respected.
Why Respect Is Key
That respect is far-reaching. Administrative teams need to be open and approachable. The only way they will truly make a difference with their teachers is if they appear to be open to conversation and dialogue about what the root issues are in their schools. Only then will there be a level of trust where changes can be made.
Those conversations should lead to positive suggestions for what that teacher may need. Perhaps it’s mental health assistance or teaming up with another teacher who is having a similar issue. Maybe it’s an out-of-school event that a particular teacher may find interesting or a YouTube video or someone fantastic to follow on social media.
It is the suggestion of these types of interactions that will make a difference with staff and shift school culture away from the “burnout model”.
Everything ends up focusing on culture and changing a normalized model that too many people have fallen accustomed to. Without making necessary changes that are draining teachers, nothing other than fueling the cycle of teacher burnout will happen moving forward.
If something is broken, it is imperative that it is fixed before the destruction is too much to come back from.
The best change for MY teacher mental health
The greatest change I ever made in the classroom to help alleviate some of the stress was by adopting the student-centered model. As you know, Student-Centered World teaches teachers how to successfully execute that model in the classroom.
When I was able to walk into a room and everything was prepared for my students, I was able to literally speak to every single one of them in a meaningful way during class while I knew every other student was doing what they needed to do to achieve their highest level. This created such a sense of accomplishment and a relaxed feeling on my part in the classroom.
Is every single class perfect? No, of course not. Are there discipline issues that pop up? Of course, there are…we’re teaching kids, and it’s not going to be perfect…but knowing that most of the time it would be and that these interruptions were the exception and not the norm created an entirely different vibe in my room. Even my students would talk about how laid-back my classroom always felt and that they could do better there.
Having this run effectively takes a little extra preparation out of class, but when you’re able to enjoy your craft with your students, it changes everything. No longer will you enter class flustered, wondering if your lecture is going to be received well or in a way that your students understand. No longer do you have that unfortunate surprising moment after an assessment when many students didn’t do well because, of course, nobody had any questions when you asked.
By making your classroom learner-centered, you will be able to find out one-on-one what students are struggling with and will be able to adapt your class every single day for what they need more of (and in some cases less of).
We know that teaching is a balance between being prepared and also winging it when the tide changes suddenly. Student-centered learning naturally does that and it also naturally differentiates for every single student in your room. What other method of instruction do you know that does that?
You’ve heard from your administrators before that they want to see more in the hands of the students in your classroom, but that itself becomes extremely stressful when you’re not sure how to do that. You may think that you understand student-led learning, but I know for a fact when I first started I didn’t.
My boss told me to create a student-centered learning environment, but I didn’t know what that meant and there was nothing out there that actually explained how to do it…but I saw the merit in it when I saw how engaged my students became when I gave a little bit of choice and what their activities were going to be, so I stuck with it.
Personally, it took me five years to figure it out, but by the time I really nailed down a system, I had students who constantly came back into my class to tell me how they had gotten more out of my class than any other class. They would come to me and tell me after they had moved on that they missed my class and that I needed to train their new teacher on my method of instruction because it was so amazing for them.
Even students who resisted at first because they were very traditional and expected lectures came around once they bought in and saw their classmates buy into it.
This takes away the stress of teaching
As I said, not every day is rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes I would come up with an activity for the kids to pick from and they didn’t like it. so it didn’t go so well. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’ve tried things before that you didn’t like either.
Our students are human too, and we need to remember that.
It’s not a failure because you tried something and it didn’t work. It just didn’t work. You just have to find something different. Education has a trickle-down effect: how you’re treated by your superior is a direct correlation to how you perform and then treat others.
If your students feel like they’re respected in your classroom and are given some autonomy, watch how your classroom management issues start to disappear.
Change is scary, especially if you’ve been teaching the same way for a long time. One of the biggest backlashes I get from people about why they don’t want to switch to a student-centered classroom is because, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. While I don’t disagree with that, are you sure it’s not broken? Is every single student in your class achieving at their absolute peak level for them? Are they coming to school, excited to be there, and trying their very best (and taking risks in their learning because of it)?
It truly only takes a change of mindset to make tweaks to your classroom that make all the difference in the world.
Keeping a Positive Teacher Mindset and Perspective
As human beings and especially teachers, we have a very strong tendency to get ourselves wrapped up in the ins and outs of everyday life. Teachers by nature are nurturers, and we want not only to make sure that we’re doing everything correctly but that we are doing it in the best interest of those we are serving. Sometimes we have a tendency to get ourselves so wrapped up in the little things that we find ourselves in a stressful situation that has completely lost perspective of what really matters and is important.
Don’t get me wrong: the landscape of education is certainly changing and has been for several years now. We have more stress on our plates than we ever had before and we’re not trained in our teaching programs on how to deal with that the most effective way possible and keep a positive teacher mindset.
However, sometimes the universe has a way of smacking you in the head to help you take a step back and have a somewhat “out of body” experience to realize the stress that you’re putting on yourself is not as important as what you have shoved onto the back burner. We discussed previously that most stressors in our lives will not really matter five years into the future. We may even look back upon them and laugh, Of course, this is not the case with every scenario, but so often it is.
Keeping a Positive Teacher Mindset
So how do we check ourselves when we have lost perspective of what is important. This seems so hard to do, not because it is difficult to execute, but because when we are wrapped up in a situation, it is hard to pull ourselves out of it to see what is going on. Often losing perspective is our way of trying to keep hold of something that is out of our control. We give so much of ourselves into different parts of our lives that often we take the other parts of our lives for granted.
Think about it at the most basic level in our classroom. Sometimes we put so much effort into students that are just under our skin or even under our wings and then the others slip through the cracks because we’re spending too much time on the ones that we think that needed the most. I know as a teacher it is difficult to manage that, but one of the reasons we have trouble is that we lose perspective.
We want so hard to know that we have control and the ability to fix or change or improve or what-have-you, that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We want all of our students to be successful–WE want to be successful–but we get so wrapped up in all of the things that we can’t control or spend too much time focusing on things that just take up too much of our time. We need to break this cycle.
It seems to be a recurring theme to mention here at Student-Centered World, but we can’t do what we have always done given what we are being given as teachers today any longer. We need to find a way to make sure we keep perspective every single day with what’s going on in the classroom and in our personal lives. We all know that sometimes they overlap just as they do for our students, but we find ways to make it work.
You need to find a way to figure out what works for you as an individual.
Maybe it is having a coworker that you know you can speak with that can help you and you can help them. Maybe it is by using a gratitude journal to kind of help you focus on what is important in your life. Maybe it is really ramping up your self-care just so you have time to decompress so all the little things do not become so monstrous to you. Just like anything else, it is a matter of finding your own avenue to success when it comes to your mental well-being.
Life is going to throw you curveballs…most likely when you can least afford or expect it. We can’t control that. The only thing in this world that you can control is how you react to the hand that you are dealt at any given time. The sooner we find a way to support one another and support ourselves in this journey, the better we will all be in the long run.
Again, I am not saying that this is going to be easy, but we need to make a conscious effort to try to keep perspective. This keeps us grounded, keeps us focused, and makes sure that we are on our game all the time.
It is when we lose that positive teacher mindset that we lose our vision and we lose why we are in the classroom doing what we are doing. Not every day is going to be perfect; not even every week or month or school year will be perfect, but if we keep that perspective, we remember why we are playing the game as opposed to why we are just dealt the cards that we have in our hand, it makes all the difference in the world.
Take some time to sit back and remember what is your vision for your classroom, why are you a teacher, and what you want to achieve. When you figure that out and you keep those visions in the forefront of your mind and keep it the perspective clear, it makes all the difference and it makes you stay on task with what you want to achieve in your career.
Clearing Your Psyche of Teacher Problems
In this day and age, we know we love what we do as teachers, but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to do it and our teacher problems are real. Teaching is hard. Living life as a teacher in today’s climate is even harder.
If you look at what the life of a teacher, or anyone in education, was like just 10 years ago, the changes are staggering. Though some changes were necessary to propel us into the 21st century, others have been nothing more than a seizing of power to try to make us look like the enemy. We know why we do what we do and where our passions lie, but it’s hard when we are being attacked in some fashion.
It’s hard to go to work with a smile every day when you know that what you’re doing is underappreciated. We start this career path with all the excitement and gusto in the world, and at some point, the wind starts being taken from our sails. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but it is the reality and the reality is that even though the bureaucratic nonsense and teacher problems play on our psyches, we need to find a way to compartmentalize those thoughts and concerns and get back to what we entered the classroom to do…to make a difference in the lives of kids.
The only way we could do that is if we are at a place mentally to do that ourselves. We simply can’t rely on others to help keep us energized. It’s difficult to put one foot in front of the other if we simply don’t want to. The day-to-day motions of teaching are a sprint and it seems like a quick trip of your feet takes eons to recover from. That shouldn’t be. We’re better than that.
I think the district that you work in really does make a difference. We all know that the administration is a huge part of how we feel about ourselves on a daily basis. There are some districts where the administration is so wonderful. so encouraging. and so supportive. They want you to try new things and if you make a mistake in the classroom, it’s okay…how can you learn from it? How can you move forward? And you’re not seen as a bad person.
There are other ones where it seems like the administration is out to get you with those “gotcha” moments. Having one set of those administrators over another may or may not be helpful to your day-to-day.
Of course, we want to be supported, but what if the students are very, very difficult to work with? On the flip side, what if the administration is absent but your students are absolutely wonderful? There’s so much that goes into the teaching community and it all needs to sync up, but there’s so much that’s out of our control, creating all these unnecessary teacher problems. So how do we rise above? How do we become the best versions of ourselves? How do we feel that passion for educational progress that we stepped into our first classrooms exploding with?
It’s not necessarily easy, but it is attainable.
We need to take care of ourselves. We are givers, but we give, and give, and give so much that we often forget to take. It is not selfish to take time to unwind, take time to engage with ourselves, take time to just be.
So as teachers, what do we do to make sure that we are doing the best that we possibly can and we’re keeping ourselves grounded while we’re doing it? How do we alleviate (or at least attempt to tackle) these teacher problems?
Try to pinpoint…what is stressing you out? I know that’s kind of a loaded question and I understand that we have a tendency to look at the big picture, especially as teachers, and say it’s all of the things. It might be all of the things, but you also have to realize that it’s a trickle-down effect and it can also be a domino effect depending on how things are going for you.
I would suggest getting a piece of paper and just start writing out the thoughts that are in your head. This is an exercise that my 6th-grade chorus teacher taught me. You can set a timer if you would like or you can kind of just go and see where it goes.
You’re going to write down legitimately every single word that pops into your head. You’re not going to stop writing…you’re going to not even pick up the pen. You’re just going to go. Even if you’re thinking something along the lines of, “I have no idea what to write right now”, you’re going to write down, “I have no idea what to write right now”.
It seems weird but as you start going, the thoughts just start flowing onto that paper.
Throughout this exercise, I would like for you to think about what your day today is like in school. What are your specific teacher problems? Think about things that rile you up…think about things that make you happy…think about the stuff that you’ve been procrastinating with or putting off or you can’t wait to get started or that you’re just completely inundated with.
Try to keep your mind focused like that as you’re doing this experience. Your mind might wander onto something else as you do this…it’s okay. Write about that because subconsciously that might be the exact hang-up that you have for why you’re feeling the way that you feel right now.
When I take care of this particular activity myself, I usually do it for about 5 minutes. Sometimes I find myself going over and that’s fine; other times I find myself writing a lot of, “I’m not sure what to write right now”, but in the end, it gets it out of your brain and makes it tangible.
I generally don’t reread it because I’m living it as I’m going through it, so that’s something that you would have to decide. If you want to go back and reread it, or if it’s cleansing enough that you know you have it out now, you can just crumple it up and throw it away.
The best part about this exercise is it takes all of the disorganization that’s going on in your brain and it puts it in a tangible place. It helps you get organized, even without you realizing it because it takes thoughts that are all jumbled up and spreads them out.
Once you have done this, the best thing that you can do from this point forward (and hopefully you are feeling a little bit more relaxed) is to try to figure out what the key points are there are going to be the central themes that float around.
It could be something simple; it could be that you know you have an observation coming up and it’s really, really rattling you. That’s fine.
It could be something much deeper than that.
There’s an infinite amount of possibilities of what is going to come out on this piece of paper and frankly, you might be able to do it an hour later, and completely different thoughts will come out. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the nicest thing about this exercise..it is easy to do and it really does give you that mental clarity to start eliminating some of your most tricky teacher problems.
No teacher wants to burn out. No teacher wants to feel defeated. In the climate of so many of our educational institutions, this is much easier to happen than for previous generations of educators. We need to remember why we became teachers and find ways to persevere.
Our students deserve teachers who are able to care for them appropriately because they have already taken care of themselves (go ahead and read that line again). We need to make sure our ability to give is preserved by giving to ourselves first. It’s the only way we’re all going to make it!
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This article was originally written on March 4, 2020
Gonzalez, Jennifer. “Why It’s So Hard for Teachers to Take Care of Themselves.” Cult of Pedagogy, 20 Sept. 2018, www.cultofpedagogy.com/teacher-self-care/.
Mahnken, Kevin. “61% Of Teachers Stressed Out, 58% Say Mental Health Is Not Good in New National Survey.” The 74 The Problem With Homework Not Much Evidence on Whether It Works Comments, 21 Oct. 2017, www.the74million.org/61-of-teachers-stressed-out-58-say-mental-health-is-not-good-in-new-national-survey/.
Walker, Tim. “How Many Teachers Are Highly Stressed? Maybe More Than People Think.” NEA Today, 30 July 2018, neatoday.org/2018/05/11/study-high-teacher-stress-levels/.