Teaching can be mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting, especially if you are not properly taking care of your mind, body, and soul while outside of the classroom. Some may disagree with this contention, but it is impossible to provide the best for your students if you are not providing the best for yourself. A recent Huffington Post article questioned “Where Are All of the Teachers Going?” and if you ask me...CRAZY! The stress and demands of the education profession can literally drive a person insane but it does not have to be that way. Self-care is essential to a satisfying teaching career. It will not solve all of the the many other issues within the profession, but it will definitely help with with having a "water rolling off your back" duck mentality.
I’ve been in the education profession for seven years and like many new teachers, I was burnt out after year five. Emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, I was drained and ready to walk away from it all. However, I honestly can not blame the point that I was at solely on teaching. Many of my issues stemmed from my lack of balance and prioritizing my teaching obligations over my personal needs. Because I was not taking care of myself, I could not fully meet the needs of my students. Yeah, students continued to learn and test scores remained high, however, my students were not really getting from me what they need. I was very distant, callous, and not a pleasant person to be around. When students entered my room, they had to do so with caution. One day I could be warm and friendly and the next, I was cold hearted. When they needed love, compassion, or someone to just show that they cared, I was not that person. Sadly, I can admit that some students failed my course because I failed them emotionally. This is something that I will always regret and vowed to change.
Observing veteran teachers can give you great insight on how to find balance between the personal and professional. You've seen them; those veterans who have been on your campus for years and in the profession longer than you have possibly been on this earth and they are still in love what they do. They would have it no other way. These are the veteran teachers who the students LOVE and they genuinely love their students. They are not those teachers who grudgingly come to work daily counting down to retirement, one outdated lesson plan at a time. But, these teachers are the ones who have seen numerous changes in the educational field but still make an effort to keep up with changing pedagogy, strategies, and best practices. They still take their craft and role in the classroom seriously. They know what it takes to make students successful and keep them coming back for what they have to offer. They have learned, from experience, that their students are only as happy as they are and similar to the saying “a happy wife makes a happy life,” a life-loving teacher helps to create a life-long learner.
So, what can we learn from these teachers? EVERYTHING! But, mainly how important it is for us as educators to remain whole even when things are crumbling around us. These teachers take time to travel during the summer, spend time with family and friends during breaks, and make a conscious effort to put their mind and body first. They are particular about their time and do not allow someone or something to take captive of their schedule if it was not already planned. They do what they love personally while not allowing their personal to conflict with their professional. They surround themselves with positive and uplifting people and instead of avoiding negativity, they allow their light to shine so bright that a dark cloud has no choice but to flee. These teachers know what they can and can not handle and while they still contribute to the campus culture, they have put behind them the days of taking on any and everything presented to them. Theses teachers put their families first and choose wisely when something career wise will put them in a conflicting situation. Most importantly, these teachers take time to do something, daily, that makes them happy and will give them the opportunity to step back. Whether it’s playing tennis with students after work, enjoying a conversation during a conference period, teaching a workout class after work, running marathons on the weekend, or knitting baby items during lunch, they are relaxed, happy, and overall, at peace. Activities as such allow them to decompress from the stress of the job and re-energizes them for next day. They don’t neglect their teaching obligations for these activities but they know that sometimes it is okay to leave that stack of ungraded papers at work or wait until the next day to respond to that email from that angry parent or student. After years of teaching they have come to understand that in order to be an asset to your students and your campus, you must value the most important asset you have...YOURSELF.
Before we start back to school, do something for YOU and make sure to ENJOY IT!
Alexes M. Terry