there’s always a sharp change around august, and it’s definitely not the weather. for most teachers, august marks the beginning of back to school season, successfully ending our summer bliss of normal lives. often, the change begins as a rhythmic churn that speeds into the frenzy of nerves, sleepless nights, and bright young faces as we get closer and closer to the first day of school. most teachers show up each year for the content (and the kids!) that we love. we don’t teach for the 4 am alarms or the piles of grading. we don’t teach because we like the stress and the burnout. for many, the simple joy of passing along the gift of knowledge is enough.
overtime, i became more and more excited about the coming school year. i have a very intense passion about the transformative and political act of education. the past month has reminded me of what authentic instruction and its impact looks and feels like. the stakes are beyond high when you have young minds and hearts in your classrooms, looking to you for guidance and knowledge each day. still, stress factors contribute to teacher burnout and high turnover. Without a doubt, it’s natural to see teachers burnout more quickly than in any other professions.
for this, teachers need healthy ways to practice self-care. our work follows us home each and everyday, whether in the form of unit exams, professional development, or student caseloads. i complied some of my best practices in the hope to keep other teachers centered, restored, and prepared for the pace of an impending school year. follow these steps and recharge amidst the demanding tasklists, frustration, the long hours, the endless grind you spend in services of children and their families.
1 take at least 15 minutes a day to yourself
an important part of preserving calm relies on a space that is untouched by the franticness of the school day. for some teachers, this space is somewhere totally different from an empty classroom, a cubicle, or an office. find a quiet, private place and attempt to block off small bursts of time each day to decompress from the various stresses you encounter.
2 put the coffee down.
many teachers drink caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and energy drinks for a boost of energy to start the day or stay awake and focused throughout the day or evening. most schools provide an endless supply of k-cups and breakfast coffees to keep us energized for any challenge necessary. however, studies show that overusing coffee or other caffeinated drinks may have negative side effects such as increased heart rate, nausea, or insomnia. replace that cup of coffee with water to stay hydrated, or a calming cup of tea with less caffeine.
3 when appropriate, laugh with your students.
we naturally smile when we laugh, both being highly contagious. students love to see or gain insight to their teachers as regular people, when appropriate. giving yourself a moment to laugh whether at lunch, or at a funny joke mid-class gives you the quick chance to recharge and connect with students.
4 pay attention to your moods.
practice awareness around your feelings and the way you respond with your moods. the rush of back to school evokes different emotions for each teacher, but emotional awareness or metamood allows for you to take a step back and remain in control.
5 dedicate yourself to a new book, at least one a month.
reading is an activity that allows escape. a good book also engages the imagination and our logical skills. still, with the long lists of to-dos adding up, teachers begin to ignore the same advice we give to students. find at least one book that you enjoy, content-related or not, and knock out a chapter a day.
6 pick at least one good moment from your day and give gratitude for it.
as the grind continues into november, it’s too easy to focus on what needs to be done; what could be better; or what isn’t going right. while teachers can’t immediately address or solve every problem that arises, balance can be discovered by locating the little thing each day that went exceptionally well. find that little moment; a student’s breakthrough, an epiphany shared with a coworker, or your favorite snack and simply appreciate the moment. recite this gratitude each day or write it down.
7 carve out time to enjoy your home, a meal, or a favorite thing.
as unbelievable as it may sound, we can’t work every hour of every single day. many teachers develop a habit of bringing work home, which inevitably soaks up time and space in our homes. but, keep yourself in check. set boundaries for your time and your home. cut technology off after a specific time in the evenings. limit how much work you carry home. find what works for you.
8 sleep more.
this one is self-explanatory. set a reminder for your bedtime- stick to it. being exhausted is not a badge of honor that makes us better teachers. it often makes us more probable to making mistakes or having breakdowns in the long run.
9 find and keep that “one friend” that doesn’t work in education like you.
make/keep a close friend that is not a teacher. having someone who leads a “normal” 9-5 work day can also keep you sane and separated from the school where you devote so much of your time. hang out with that “one friend” and do things that are totally unrelated to teaching.
10 teach with your heart.
my first year of teaching, i had a student named marquise. he was quiet, but very attentive, and surprisingly funny when he would open up. last school year, he graduated from middle school and moved on to high school. after he graduated, he walked up to me and said: “Mr. Salyers, thank you for teaching with your heart.” and it struck me, because i didn’t really think our day-to-day interactions were that impactful, but it reminded me that every action that we commit with students, whether instruction, relationship-building, or anything else, should be done with the loving intent on making students the best possible version of themselves. that is why we should return and stay ground in the life-changing work we do.