Teaching is a noble profession, they say. Good teachers spend all their time working, they say. Amazing teachers spend their own money on student supplies and classroom decor, they say. Teachers are selfless, they say.
Are they wrong? As a teacher about 5 years in, I do believe that teachers are some of the most incredible, strong, resilient, giving people I know. We’re used to being told that we’re either noble and selfless or unworthy of adequate pay. It’s a weird dichotomy. It’s almost like American society tells us that we’re such selfless people so that we can be paid less.
We become so used to fighting, fighting, fighting for respect, appropriate funding, and higher pay that we feel we have to prove our worthiness. So we work harder and argue louder. The pressure to prove ourselves leads to burnout as we pile more time and energy into a profession that already takes so much.
Don’t get sucked in. You have nothing to prove. Working more hours doesn’t make you a better teacher. Spending your evenings grading instead of going out with friends doesn’t make you more worthy or noble. The messages of this world are loud and clear- but they’re not true. They’re lies.
I’ve blogged about this many times, but I think it bears repeating. You can be an incredible, outstanding, service-oriented teacher even if you don’t work long hours, spend all your money on your students, and live and breathe your job. Stories of these types of teachers are the ones that make the news. They’re the stories we read about in books and articles. When we read them, we sometimes get sucked in, having doubts about ourselves or feeling justified for the long hours.
Yet it’s not about living up to society’s version of a selfless, Freedom Writers-esque teacher. It’s about serving your students the best way you know how, implementing reflective teaching practices, adopting a spirit of growth, and finding the proper work/life balance that allows you to thrive.
I refuse to see how teachers that are entirely consumed by their jobs can possibly set a good example of a healthy, balanced human being for their students. Sure, teachers can be passionate and giving of themselves. But students also need to have genuine relationships with adults who practice self care. Isn’t that how they learn to prioritize their own health and well being?
As a new teacher, I listened to the lies and spent almost every second of my first year creating meaningful lessons and grading student work. To some degree, every new teacher works more hours their first year than in later years. But I spent ALL my time working, believing it was the only way to be a good teacher. It’s because I’m a perfectionist, I told myself like that was something to brag about rather than a label hiding my fears of inadequacy.
So how do we, as teachers, work towards a healthy, balanced lifestyle? I don’t have all the answers, but I have some places to start. I’ve been on this journey of self-care for a few years now. I believe I’m a better teacher for it.
Check in with yourself daily. This isn’t some woo woo, out-there advice. It’s an invitation to pause several times a day (or maybe once a day at first) and ask yourself how you’re feeling. Are you energetic and excited? Are you anxious and tense? Are you sad and frustrated? Are you tired and spent? Ask yourself how you’re doing, notice any tension you carry. Then make a choice that’s right for you in regards to your time. If you’re exhausted, the grading can wait.
Plan ahead and have your own back. If you’re feeling anxious about the coming week’s tasks, write them down. Plan when you’ll complete them. And then complete them when the time comes. Have your own back.
Build time into your daily routine for yourself. For me, it’s 15 minutes in the morning and the hour before I go to bed. I read or chat on the phone with a friend or cuddle with my husband or pray. Whatever I need for the day.
Treat your body with respect. This means getting enough sleep each night. It means drinking lots and lots of water every day. It means moving your body (if you’re able). It means eating things that support your health. After all, a sick teacher isn’t helping anyone.
Rest well. This is a lesson God’s been teaching me just this past week. I’ve been exhausted. And bingeing Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Hulu wasn’t helping. Neither was reading a book per day (hey, it’s summer, people). No, the Lord wanted me to just rest with Him. Do nothing else but pray and be in touch with the Father. Beautiful. Restful.
Want more? Check out my new e-book:
New Teacher Survival Guide for Secondary Social Studies Teachers