So often teachers fail to prioritize self-care because of the plethora of items overflowing their plates every day. Teachers who are often underfunded and overworked are too busy trying to keep afloat then too set boundaries to help preserve their own health. However, taking the time to do so is not only important on the most basic levels, but it is also beneficial for our students, especially when taking trauma-informed teaching into consideration.
The irony is that we usually are not taking care of ourselves because we are putting our students first. However, if we are taking care of ourselves, we can take care of those students even better.
It is no secret that many of the children we teach have been affected by trauma in some form or another. So often we internalize their struggles as we try to help them navigate this world through the lenses that they are living through. It is important that we make sure that our mental health and stability is as strong as it can be when acting as trauma-informed educators.
Trauma-informed teaching strategies
Besides all the other aspects of teacher burnout that every educator is susceptible to, teachers who are educating students who have been impacted by a traumatic experience are also at risk for falling victim to compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is often found in teachers, social workers, and those who work in the health care profession. Compassion fatigue is defined as, “the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another” according to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
The symptoms of compassion fatigue are often one in the same other symptoms of the person who is experiencing trauma. There is often an extremely high chance of denial also being part of the equation, especially when it comes to teachers. So many see it as a sign of weakness and have the misconception that it means that we cannot do our job properly. The ironic part of this is that denying compassion fatigue makes it so we cannot do our job properly, as opposed to dealing with the issues at hand in a swift and compassionate manner.
You are at risk for burnout and compassion fatigue if you find yourself putting everyone else’s needs before your own while navigating trauma-informed teaching. You simply run out of energy each day and are convinced that there is not enough time to do everything that you are tasked with.
The worst part is that many times you know that self-care needs to be a priority, but you just don’t know how to do that with the laundry list of tasks that you need to complete every single day. And there is a lot of merit to this. It seems that each year that passes teachers are expected to do more with less and the number of children coming into our classroom who have experienced trauma, have learning disabilities, or just seem to be failed by the system seems to be ever-increasing.
We are constantly told that we need to do everything possible to help our students with their problems through trauma-informed teaching, and this is very true, but if we are not taking care of ourselves who are dealing with the same issues in a secondary sense, and sometimes even a primary sense, then we are not going to be efficient and helping them the way that they need the most.
Somewhere along the line, the standard became that you are considered a good teacher if you put your student’s needs above your own. As I have mentioned here at Student-Centered World time and time again, you simply cannot pour from an empty cup. Working for someone else 24/7 and not taking care of yourself is going to backfire.
Look at the teachers around you. While everybody has their own styles and ways of working, you can probably think of at least one teacher off the top of your head that seems like they have it all together.
While everybody has bad days, this teacher is usually positive, organized, and generally the person you want to be when you grow up. This does not mean that they are a better teacher than you; it simply means that they have a system that works, and that system probably does include some type of self-care for themselves, especially in the era of trauma-informed teaching.
Trauma-informed teaching self-care
It is all about having good habits and focusing on what you do have control over and working on the things that will make a difference overall. Have you ever heard the saying if you want something bad enough, you will find a way and if not, you will find an excuse? That comes to mind in this very scenario.
Keeping it together as a teacher is all about forming habits. If you find that you are burning out, then you are probably making bad habits a priority without even realizing it. This isn’t a dig at you, it’s just something to think about. Trauma-informed teaching shouldn’t cost you your mental health.
The first thing you need to do in trying to figure this out is getting into the right frame of mind to be able to move forward with positive changes. Check out this Facebook Live that I held in our mastermind Facebook group about three things that teachers can do to help organize their thoughts and get into the proper frame of mind to move forward.
These activities do not take long to do but they make a world of a difference. Taking care of yourself is not selfish; it means that you are making sure that you can, in fact, give everything that you have to your students. They will benefit more when you are relaxed, happy, and energetic as opposed to exhausted, frustrated, and downtrodden.
You need to take time for yourself, whether that is taking a quick walk on your lunch break or immersing yourself into a hobby once a week. You need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself if you want to be able to take care of others.
The key to this is you need to do it on a regular basis. You cannot take time for yourself once every couple of months for a few hours and expect it to be enough. You need to schedule time on a regular basis to take care of you. This is a choice and you need to make sure you are making the correct one for your own mental health.
In determining what you would like to do with this time, you need to find something that you would like to do long term. This will turn it into a habit and make it something that you look forward to when you know the time is coming to complete it. You should also pick something that is meaningful to you and will have a positive effect on your life somehow. Even if it is as simple as reading a chapter of a book a few nights a week or taking a go-at-your-own-pace course on the internet. Find something that will fill you with joy and run with it.
Being a trauma-informed educator is so important. Often, we are the glue that holds our students together when they do not know where else to turn. We cannot be everything that we want to be for them if we do not put ourselves first. You would put your own oxygen mask on before you helped someone else on an airplane, right? You need to ensure that you’re doing this in your everyday life as well.