I am sure I don’t speak for just myself when I say that we, as teachers, spend the majority of our days thinking about others. Our students, their families, our fellow teachers, how we can improve our practice, and so on, are constantly on our mind.
I know that I personally spend all day with my students focusing on how to best serve them, then when the school day is over, I ruminate on what I did wrong or could improve, and spend hours lesson planning, grading, and torturing myself over minute “failures” that it’s unlikely anyone but myself has noticed. If you don’t do this as well, I’m sure you know people who do.
We consistently put ourselves “out there” for others – emotionally, physically, and mentally. This undoubtedly has an extreme impact on our own health and well-being. If we want to be the best teachers we can be for our students, actually thrive in this career long-term, and enjoy our “off-time”, then we have to care for ourselves.
I’ve rounded up a few of my favourite ways to practice self-care. Take a look and see if any of these appeal to you as well!
Stop bringing your work home
This might seem too overly simple or straightforward to actually help your mental health, but it’s not. Every single time I left the school in my early days of teaching, I brought home a pile of work I planned to do at home. And this was when I first started teaching and was already rolling in at 7:00am and leaving around 7:00pm. Burnout was inevitable.
There’s two different ways bringing home your work can go: either you’ll lug it back and forth and not actually touch it, causing you to feel guilty and “behind” on everything you still have to do. Or, you actually will get around to doing it and not spend the time you’re actually supposed to be off relaxing and rejuvenating for the next day.
What I’m saying here is to choose you. Take the time you need for yourself to feel rested and restored. As teachers, there will always, always, always be more to do. Do what’s most important at work, then take the time you need and deserve for yourself when you’re off the clock. And don’t feel guilty about it!
When they look back on their time with you, your students will remember your personality and the happiness and joy you bring to the classroom. No matter how hard we try to outrun burnout and lack of sleep, it will always catch up with us. If you’re tired and irritable, it won’t matter how great the font on that worksheet you spent all night working on was, they can and will feel your negative energy.
Assign jobs to others who can do them
Stop trying to do everything yourself! There are literally so many silly little jobs students love to do! Or educational assistants are there for! Or volunteers will gladly take on for you!
Tasks like cleaning the fish tank, watering the plants, making sure all the technology is plugged in and charged, monitoring the classroom library, and so many more are things students love to do!
It truly blows my mind how many kids want to help out and are eager to do so. Not only is it extremely helpful for you, it teaches them leadership and responsibility. Talk about a win-win. My students have even asked to get my morning tea ready for me! I had to say no to that one, even though I was really tempted, the hot kettle and all…
When it comes to volunteers and educational assistants, my main goal is to always have them working with and supporting students, but there are inevitably times (like right before a break) when classes are having parties, watching movies, and so on.
Now call me crazy, but I have a giant box that I save up full of things for anyone in the school with “down-time” to do. I fill it up with things as they pop up that are important, but not time-bound, or things I know I’ll need in the future. For example, I’ll throw in lamination or centres that will need cutting, assessments for the future that need to be photocopied and have kids’ names put on them, and so on.
This saves me tons of time I can put toward planning, grading, and so on. It definitely helps in the long run because I feel less overwhelmed with everything I have to do!
Take your email off of your phone
Or just stop checking it in the evenings and on weekends. I am the type of person who will sit down and do work when I can, which often means I’m sending emails at 10:00pm. I used to just hit “send”, not ever expecting anyone to read them or respond. Then I realized many people are getting these messages and, even if they’re not expected to respond or take action, now they’re thinking about work when they don’t have to be.
Now, I still check my email at random times (call me crazy), but I schedule them to go out the next morning. Do yourself and everyone else you work with a favour; stop checking your email and schedule any emails that you’re writing outside of work time to go out later.
Make completely non-school-related plans
I know for me, it can be hard to take my mind off of school and my students. As difficult as it can be, I freaking love my job and really care about my kiddos, their families, the people I work with, and so on. That being said, in order to keep our sanity, we really do need to separate ourselves from our jobs as much as possible. This can be really difficult if you’re just sitting at home surfing the net or watching television.
Instead, try to do your best to make plans with friends, family, your significant other, your dog, or just yourself that has nothing to do with school. I’m talking about plans that will be so freaking awesome you won’t think about work at all! It’s hard to think about the student who called you words a sailor would blush at while you’re at a paint night with your mom, or a wine tasting with your best friends, or learning how to bake a pie with your family, or learning how to do calligraphy, and so on, and so on.
Find things you love to do or have always wants to try, and be sure to add them to your calendar. This can be a hard thing to do when we’re overwhelmed and drowning in school work, but it’s really important to ensure your work and life are two distinct things that you enjoy for different reasons.
Make friends with your peers
I have never worked at a school where I haven’t gotten along with everyone, but I have worked at schools where I haven’t had close work-friends. This is inevitable – even if you like the people you work with, respect them, and get along with them, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be besties. Sometimes personalities just don’t mesh. This can happen a lot at smaller schools with a smaller staff – there’s just a smaller “friend pool” to pick from.
My advice? Do your best to make a great friend (or two, or three) on your staff – this truly makes going to work each day so much better. If you just can’t find someone your personality melds with, make sure you have fellow teachers in your life you can bond with and vent to. It’s hard for our friends and families who aren’t teachers to really understand what we go through each day. We really need people who are out there “in the trenches” with us to discuss our day-to-day teacher life with and laugh with.
I truly think this point is so important that I would consider trying to get a job in a different school if I didn’t have friendships on staff. You’re spending a huge amount of time at school and with your coworkers – make sure you can have a laugh with them and enjoy going to work! Right now I have about five friends at work who are not only my work friends, I consider them some of my closest friends and we hang out all the time.
The fact that I love my job and have these amazing relationships at work is priceless and makes me excited to wake up and go to work each day!
I’m going to say it again: you need to put yourself first. This means ensuring you are staying healthy. You can’t show up for others if you’re not caring for yourself, so stop putting everyone else first. I’ve been through some seasons of life where I’ve survived on energy drinks, crappy protein bars, little sleep, and barely any exercise.
Let me tell you, not only did I look and feel terrible when I was living this way, I also just didn’t have the energy to properly show up for my job. So not only did I physically look and feel terrible, my mental health also started to suffer because I felt like I was really shitting the bed at work as well.
You’re a teacher, so you’re obviously smart. You already know what you need to be your healthiest self. Get enough sleep each night, drink tons of water, eat your fruits and vegetables, exercise every day, and stop eating junk!
If it comes down to sleep or grading papers, go to sleep! You can grade the papers tomorrow. Do what you can to prep healthy food for dinner beforehand – I know the last thing I want to do after a long day is cook – and that’s when the take out gets ordered. Put yourself first here, it will pay off in your job performance and for the rest of your life!
Maintain your relationships
Don’t get so caught up in your job or your work relationships that you forget about your family and friends who you don’t see each day at work. Make sure you continue to care for and grow these relationships because you need them!
Make dates for coffee, send nice text messages, don’t forget about birthdays and anniversaries, host get-togethers, and so on! These are people who have been with you long before you were a teacher and will be with you long after. They may not always understand just what you’re going through – but they’re there for you and you need to make sure you’re there for them, too!
I’ve talked before about my newfound love of gratitude (I guess before I was just a miserable, thankless, bitch – I kid, I kid, but seriously). Taking the time to slow-down and recognize everything in your life you are grateful for is extremely powerful. Take a few minutes to write in a gratitude journal or send a thank you note to someone you appreciate.
Being a teacher in a school where a lot of students are struggling with food scarcity, broken and dysfunctional families, huge amounts of anxiety and depression, and so on, has had a profound impact on me.
Not only am I so much more aware of societal issues that impact people close to me, I’m also extremely grateful for the life and things I do have. I am extremely privileged and it’s really important for me to recognize that and to do what I can to give back to others.
Take time for you
Last, but not least, and also not surprising; it’s vitally important for you to take time for yourself. What do you enjoy? What do you need more of in your life? Make time for it and actually go and do it!
Go get a massage, throw on a fancy facemask, make a colourful cocktail, go for a nice long walk, bake some of your favourite cookies, scrapbook, take some beautiful photographs, garden, write a poem, listen to a great podcast, watch your favourite cheesy movie, and so on, and so on.
I always feel like there’s never enough time in the day to get everything done and to also fuel myself. The truth is, if you don’t plan for yourself, it will just never happen. You are important and you matter! You deserve nice things, so take the damn bath! Lock the door, turn on your music, and read a freaking book! If you wait for when you “have the time”, “you’ll be waiting forever, so just do it, already!
What do you think? Are these helpful for you? Do you have any other ideas for practicing self-care? Share them with me below! Take care of yourselves; I’m here for you! Check out this little inforgraphic I’ve made to accompany this post and feel free to share it on Pinterest, social media, and so on!