What is about teaching that doesn’t allow a person to fully turn off their teaching brain? Is the chemical composition of a teacher that makes them want to give every last drop of energy in the classroom? Is it the nurturing?
What is it that makes you a great teacher?
Like most teachers, you are a caring, compassionate person who would give the clothes off your back in order to make the lives of your students better. You are willing to give your hard earned money to make sure they have the materials they need to be successful in your classroom. You’re willing to give your time to make sure they have the best possible experiences while they are in your classroom this year.
There is nothing wrong with any of that, but do you know when you’ve crossed the line into being unhealthy?
Here’s the Story That Inspired This Post
A journal entry from a recent vacation:
Day 7: Walking along the beach, in the early morning mist and fog, the beauty of the ocean is overwhelming and the rocky beach is a rock collectors paradise. Inspired, the rock collecting begins, after all you can never have too many rocks.
Quite quickly and without a second thought, I begin to collect the smoothest rocks on the beach. I turn to my sister and comment how the smooth rocks would be good to have in my class as “soothing rocks” to help my students self-regulate. She responds, while helping me collect more rocks, “You never stop being a teacher do you?” It reminds me that even on holidays I continue to see things through the lens of a teacher…it never really ever completely shuts off.
Does your teacher brain ever turn off? If you’re like us, it doesn’t. When you do the things you love, it doesn’t feel like work, but it can also drain you if you don’t take care of your physical and mental health.
How do you stay well physically?
Pay Yourself First
What? Well, you know how the flight attendants always tell you to put on your own mask before helping others? Life is like that, too. You need to take care of yourself before you can serve others. This means you need to do the things that put you first. You have to take care of yourself because when you get run down and sick (which might still happen because you work in a germ incubator) you aren’t able to help others.
Take Your Sick Days
What do you do to take care of yourself and put yourself first when it is needed? It’s easy to think that your classroom will fall apart without you there, but here’s the hard truth. They will survive without you. The day will not be perfect, but you being sick isn’t perfect either, so take the time if you need it.
No one likes to write sub plans because they can be a lot of work, but if you set yourself up to be ready in advance before you’re sick, you’ll save a lot of time. Check out our post It’s Time to Get Your Emergency Sub Plans Ready. It has information to get you set up so you can take your sick days when you need to. You can even buy Emergency Sub Plans so that you don’t have to plan anything. Set up your supply teacher binder in advance.
We realize that sick days vary from district to district, but do your research so you know how many days you are entitled to and what happens if you don’t use them up. Some districts allow you to bank these days while others (like ours) don’t allow them to rollover or be banked.
Whatever you do, don’t make yourself sicker by not getting medical attention if you need it.
You will save time when you are organized. If you struggle with getting organized, we understand. There is SO much paper involved in teaching, but unless you have system for keeping things organized, you will drown in it. You might want to check out our free email course to help you reclaim your personal time.
When you are organized, you will save more time, freeing it up for the things you love to do. Check out our post Save Your Time for more ideas about ways you can eliminate time wasters from your life.
Being organized saves you time physically, but it also helps with your mental state. Having a clean and organized space helps keep a person calm and focused (despite the internet folklore that messy desks incite creativity).
There are certain times of the school year where this is more difficult. Report card writing season often leaves behind a trail of candy wrappers and regret, but if you go into the season prepared, you can avoid some of the pitfalls.
Prep school lunches and dinners by making wholesome soups and casseroles than you can divide into containers and freeze. Invest in freezer containers that you can reuse (and save the planet) and microwave. If you make a casserole and one batch of soup, you can make up lunches for nearly a month.
Yes, you’ll eat the same meal repeatedly, but you can save a lot of time which is worth it to us. And, you don’t have to decide what you eat because it’s the same soup. Despite not being interesting, your lunches are healthy and MADE for quite a while.
You can do the same with dinners. In the weeks leading up to a busy time like report cards double the recipes as you make dinner and freeze half so you can just thaw and reheat on those crazy tired nights.
Don’t forget about drinking water. We tend to avoid it since bathroom breaks can be few and far between during the busy school day, but it is the key to staying ahead of the germs.
We will not tell you to sanitize everything because frankly we don’t believe in using all those chemicals on your skin, but washing your hands regularly will help. If anything, try not to touch your face at school at all. Wash your hands before eating and when you arrive home from school.
It seems like an obvious one, but sometimes you get busy and grab a cracker from your desk before thinking about it.
Sanitize Your Desk
Most schools have wonderful custodians that keep schools squeaky clean, but even the best of the best cannot wash every pen, pencil and keyboard every single night.
Get in the habit of sanitizing your computer keyboard and writing tools (whiteboard markers, buttons on your whiteboard, desk handles etc.) first thing in the morning before you touch them. At the very least, do this on the first morning of the week.
We don’t have a lot of advice for this. Just go to bed early enough and try to get a good night every night whenever possible.
How do you stay well mentally?
Remind Yourself of Your Priorities
Keep a list of your priorities nearby so you always stay grounded in the things you love. Chances are, your life goals aren’t about being the best “worker.” You can still be an amazing teacher AND have life goals outside the classroom.
You do not need to take lavish or expensive vacations. Even taking a book to a park for a lunch hour can be enough. Get into nature if you can. The Japanese have forest bathing or forest therapy known as shinrin-yoku. The gist is that spending time in nature helps reduce stress and encourages healing in your body.
If you can’t get outside, take some quiet time. Whether you read a book in the tub or curl up by the fire, schedule some down time where it’s about you. No grading, no professional reading, no school work-PERIOD.
Enjoy a Hobby
It doesn’t matter what your hobby is, but choose something you enjoy and make time for it. Hobbies are the grown-up way to have fun doing something you love.
Now, many teachers will tell you how much they love creating things for your classroom. It’s true-even us ninjas love that part of our job. Even so, try to find at least one hobby that doesn’t involve your work life.
Ninja Note: Cutting out laminating on a Friday night while watching Netflix with your significant other is not a hobby.
Maintain Your Relationships
Remind yourself that the people in your life love you and want to spend time with you occasionally. Schedule a date night or a girl’s night or an afternoon at the bookstore oogling books. Whatever it is, put it in your calendar once and a while.
If you find yourself going for long periods of time not talking to non-teacher friends and family, put a note in your calendar every few weeks to remind you to reach out and assure them you’re alive. Your teacher friends will understand, but sometimes the people outside of our industry don’t fully understand how time flies.
Maybe this should be up with the other physical wellness items, but exercise has been proven to be needed as much for your mental wellness as your physical wellness.
You don’t have to be a gym rat, master Crossfit or run a marathon. Just regular exercise doing something can be a benefit. Talk a walk. Ride a bike. Dance with your students or discover Yoga. Whatever it is, dedicate some time to each by paying yourself first (remember the beginning of this post). Write it down and hold yourself to what you can actually manage.
Instead of saying you’re going to work out six days a week, start with one. Then if you work out twice, you’ve already beaten your expectations. Just keep at it. Don’t let yourself down by lying to yourself and setting yourself up for failure.
Keep a Notebook or a Journal
Your brain will come up with the best lessons at the most inconvenient times. Break the cycle of lesson planning in your sleep all night long by keeping a notebook nearby. When you come up with those fantastic ideas, you can jot them down and then go back to sleep.
When you need inspiration, you can refer to your notebook.
Ninja Note: If anyone can figure out what I might have meant by writing “toilet flushing yes/no” let me know. I wrote that down in the middle of the night two years ago and still don’t have a clue what I meant.
Some people swear by journaling. If this is something that works for you, give it a try. It can be very therapeutic to write down thoughts and feelings while you’re working through them.
Seek Professional Advice
Medical professionals can help sort out physical symptoms that are caused by mental health issues, so speak with a doctor if you are experiencing symptoms that don’t seem to be resolved with general health activities.
Some mental health conditions are physical or chemical imbalances and can be taken care of under the direction of a doctor while others can be treated with talk therapy. You and your doctor can make the decision that is best for you and your circumstances.
Mental health is about taking care of yourself and there should be no shame in discussing any struggles you’re having. Reach out. There are professionals who can help.
You are not going to be everything to everyone all the time. You are not going to be perfect every moment of every day. Do your best.
Don’t feel guilty when you need to take time to refill your tank. Don’t feel guilty because you let yourself get run down again. Just try again tomorrow.
Be kind to yourself.
Find a Rock
There is a book by Byrd Baylor called Everybody Needs a Rock. It is written by an Indigenous author who explains that everyone should have a smooth rock to hold and take care of. Everyone deserves to have a rock that is always there for them. It’s a reminder about nature and Mother Earth and how we’re all connected.
Find yourself a rock.
Are you able to completely turn the teacher in you off or does it always creep up on you at times when you least expect it? What do you do out of the classroom that is related to your work as a teacher (even when you don’t mean it to be)?
How are you taking care of yourself? Share your advice in the comments below.