Self-care for teachers is non-negotiable. Teaching can be as equally rewarding as it is demanding. Amidst the classroom chaos, our mental, physical, and emotional health often takes a hit.
As teacher burnout increases, teacher retention rates decrease. While there are several reasons for this, the fact remains that great teachers are leaving the profession they once loved.
So what’s a teacher who loves what they do but is compromising their mental health (and often physical health) to do? While there’s not a simple answer to this question, prioritizing self-care is a damn good start.
Self-care for teachers isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.
In this blog post, we’re diving into why caring for YOU is non-negotiable. We’ll discuss the small things that can make a massive difference and break down four super-doable self-care strategies (that you can implement right at work on a daily basis).
From setting boundaries to keeping a simple gratitude journal, these self-care for teachers tips can transform into your survival guide.
Ready to prioritize yourself? Self-care for teachers doesn’t need to be complicated. Let’s explore four simple ways to care for the most important person in your life – YOU!
Understanding Teacher Burnout
Teacher burnout is REAL. With juggling lesson plans, a never-ending to-do list, and the constant demands of students, parents, and admin, teachers often lack free time (huh? What’s that?).
The pressure to be the best version of yourself in the classroom often overshadows the need to be your best self outside of it. And that’s NOT what’s up!
While I’m sure your altruistic teacher heart becomes burstable during those ah-ha and perfect teaching moments, preparing the next generation with the knowledge and skills they need to keep our society afloat (no pressure) often comes with an uninvited guest riding shotgun – A lot of stress! (more accurately, seemingly insurmountable mounds?).
As educators, we pour our hearts into creating an environment where students can thrive, often forgetting that we must cultivate our well-being, too.
The demanding nature of the profession, combined with the constant pursuit of excellence, can lead to burnout if we don’t acknowledge the signs and take intentional steps to prevent it.
Let’s be real: to be the best for our students, we first must be the best for ourselves. Burnout is not the flex social media has made it out to be. Therefore, let’s explore how prioritizing self-care for teachers is essential to getting off the dead-end path to burnout.
Why Prioritize Self-Care for Teachers?
Prioritizing self-care for teachers has the potential to be a game-changer for your personal and professional life. The importance of self-care isn’t just a buzzword; it’s backed by science and can have lasting impacts on your health.
Teaching caters to specific needs; if you’re running on empty, it’s impossible to give your best in the classroom. Your students deserve your A-game, which means taking intentional steps to care for your well-being.
It’s not just about meeting deadlines and giving your all to a struggling student; it’s about recognizing that your personal life is just as crucial as your professional one.
I’m sure you know the cheesy reference to the flight attendant’s announcement about securing your oxygen mask before helping others. The same principle applies here. Prioritizing self-care for teachers isn’t selfish; it’s a conscious choice to take care of your health to be the best for YOU and the people you love and care for (including your students).
Self-care for teachers doesn’t have to be a grand production. The small steps, the little recharge moments, add to a significant, positive impact. Whether setting aside time for a hobby, embracing mindfulness, or simply saying no to that extra workload, these small steps can help maintain your sanity and keep your teaching journey sustainable.
Self-Care for Teachers – 4 Simple Tips
Here are four self-care for teacher tips and activities that don’t require a major life overhaul and can be done while at work.
1. Set Boundaries – Teaching often blurs the lines between work and personal life. Working all hours of the day and night will quickly lead to burnout. Set clear boundaries. Decide the hours you will work each day and stick to it.
In my first three years of teaching, I worked all hours of the morning, day and night. I worked before, during, and after school, and on weekends. I loved teaching but started to dread going in; I had a short fuse and was exhausted.
In my fourth year, I decided to try something different. I told myself I would arrive at work no more than 30 minutes before the start of my first class. Once the kids left for the day, I gave myself a limit of an hour and 15 minutes to finish my work.
Knowing I had a certain amount of time to get my lesson prepped, copies made, and grading done gave me tunnel vision. Chatting with colleagues for an entire prep period, nope! Spending an hour researching best practices and how to XYZ, nope!
I got what needed to get done before the next day. I used my prep periods more efficiently. I set better boundaries with my school leaders, colleagues, and students.
And something unexpected happened. The quality of my work improved. I was a better teacher. My social life also improved. I also felt better overall.
I attribute this to Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law essentially says that work expands to fill the time allotted for completion. In other words, if you don’t give yourself clear boundaries for when you will and won’t work, all the work will take you all the time in the world.
Setting clear work-time boundaries drastically helped me prevent this from happening.
2. Get up and move – Teachers move around for work all day. Whether it’s circulating while students work in small groups, going to the office to make copies, or sprinting to the bathroom between class periods.
But what if we could use intentional movement throughout the workday as a form of self-care?
According to the University of Colorado, movement (not limited to extraneous exercise) releases endorphins, helps relieve stress, and gives us a much-needed break from responsibilities and challenges.
Some of the ways I snuck intentional movement throughout my day were by walking to work (or the bus stop), taking a walk OUTSIDE of the building during my lunch break (even all bundled up in the cold NY winters), or doing a few stretches in my classroom between classes.
Don’t complicate it. Find simple ways to move your body throughout the day intentionally.
3. Gratitude – Simply stated, gratitude is being thankful. While this sounds simple enough, a simple gratitude practice is often underrated. Amidst the chaos of teaching young people, find a moment to jot down a few things you’re grateful for.
It could be the “aha” moment students had in class, a good laugh from a colleague’s joke at the copy machine this morning, or the song you heard this morning that reminded you of “the good old days.”
Teaching is not always a positive experience. Ish gets real and ugly sometimes. However, there is always something to be thankful for.
A simple gratitude practice can immensely impact your mental health. Therefore, taking a second to express gratitude also means investing in self-care.
4. Breath – I know this sounds silly. I thought this was a blog for science teachers. Breathing is involuntary.
True. However, according to Harvard Medical School, controlling your breathing can help you to respond to stress positively.
Intentional breathing does not need to happen in 30-minute blocks. This simple box breathing exercise can be done at your desk in a minute.
Teachers continue to put the needs of others before their own health. The teaching profession is stressful. Despite busy schedules and the stressors associated with daily life, good self-care matters. Self-care for teachers is no different.
Try internalizing these four self-care ideas and transform them into a solid self-care for teachers routine.
Schedule time to take care of yourself daily. This time can take place throughout the school day.
You deserve to have a fulfilling teaching career. Taking time for yourself will not only help you in your commitment to the care of others but will also enhance your personal life.
Stop trying to drink from an empty cup. Fill it by taking good care of yourself.