It seems one of the biggest challenges with teaching is that work is not something that is limited to when you enter school to when you leave at the end of the day. Most of us take the word “teacher” with us wherever we go. For many of us it’s a badge we wear with pride.
However wearing this badge all the time comes with added stress. How can we be our most effective yet still not work round the clock? How do we uphold all of our responsibilities to our students, our schools, our administrators and our communities while upholding perhaps one of our biggest priorities: our own health and well-being? Because without that, we aren’t the teacher we aspire to be anyway. From my own experience and most of the teachers I speak with, this balancing act is one that is most insidious and perplexing to figure out.
The nature of the job is to be caring about others. But why do we have such a difficult time extending this care to ourselves? Many of us talk about the demands of the the job. If only they would be different. If only I didn’t have to do all of those things that have nothing to do with teaching…then I would start taking care of myself. Then I would be able to balance it all.
Unfortunately, we may not be able to change any of that extra “stuff” and expectations, at least not immediately. But what we can change is ourselves. For us to be the best we can be to our students, we may need to change what we take on, what we say yes to, and what we say no to. We may need to give back papers a day later. We may have to alter our plans. We may have to cut our favorite parts of a unit. We may have to let go of being perfect and trade that unreachable expectation in for being human.
So how can letting go of our own perfection and unreachable expectations help our students? It can help us actually be present with them when we are teaching them. It can help us to be role models who care and do the best we can each and every day. By practicing being fully present at our jobs, perhaps we will start to see what is really important and what is not. What is an absolute imperative and what can wait? What really needs to be finished before leaving or going to sleep and what will no one notice (but me!).
Thinking back to the most memorable teachers, it probably wasn’t the subject matter that he or she taught that remained memorable. It was probably the feelings created and the connections made. It was probably discovering something new or the how the world worked. Although planning the perfect lesson may feel rewarding at first, when teaching the lesson, if adaptations aren’t made based on where the student are at, the only place this lesson will be perfect is on paper.
Health, well-being and presence are things that can make the difference in the classroom and how we care for ourselves throughout their entire day will impact that classroom presence. So think about some ways you could care for yourself outside of the classroom: leave on time, don’t bring a bag full of papers home to grade and feel bad if it doesn’t all get finished, go to the gym, take an extra long walk, buy yourself a cup of coffee on the way home.
Try starting each day with an intention. This will ensure that there will be a general focus for each day. Perhaps focusing on this intention throughout the day will help with classroom presence. Some intentions could include taking three deep breaths between classes, greet each student with a smile when they walk into class, take a walk or leave the desk during lunch. Just a word about intentions…intentions don’t have to be done perfectly and they are not “goals” to meet. They are a wish we intend for our day. Check out this post about how to create daily intentions and integrate other opportunities for daily self care.
So while there may not be an immediate top down solution, it can be empowering to know that if we change ourselves, the situation may change. That means that we can be the solution to our stress! Please feel free to share this post and comment below to share other ideas for self-care! When we support each other, we all win!