Just do it.
You know you should. Restore. Recharge. Find your happy place.
But why is self-care so hard to do? When I started teaching I was adrenaline-charged and felt like I couldn’t stop. I dreaded falling behind, not being prepared, and I worried about not providing quality education. More than anything, I wanted to be a good teacher and make a difference. I loved my students and class time was the best part of teaching. But it was hard to draw boundaries at work—mostly because I always took it home with me. More and more, I stopped doing stuff that I knew was good for me, like long walks, getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals and connecting with supportive relationships.
Expectations of teachers are high. We feel it from all sides—teachers, parents and the standards we have to meet. Building self-care into your life to recharge may sound totally impractical, but if you pour your life into your job like I did, that story only ends one way: burnout. Before you realize it, you can find yourself questioning whether you’re in the right job or why you wanted to teach in the first place.
Burnout is a thing and so is teacher attrition. Nine and a half percent of teachers will leave their job before the end of the first year, and 40-50 percent are out of the profession within the first five years. There are other reasons, but life balance, and mental and emotional fatigue are leading factors in teachers leaving the profession.
You can Google self-care and teachers to find tips to best fit your vibe, but we’ve put together some ideas for taking better care of yourself:
1. First things first. How am I doing? For people in helping professions like teaching, awareness into your own personal well-being is critical. Ask yourself:
If not, choose one habit and tackle it—there’s only so much caffeine a person can drink! Try setting your phone for a regular bedtime reminder and morning wake-up. Decide to carry protein-based snacks (peanuts, almonds, etc.) with you when energy lags during the day, instead of relying on caffeine or sugar. Get in the habit of some kind of exercise to clear your head on a regular basis (long walks, running, rowing, yoga, etc.). As a teacher, you are often eligible for discounted gym and wellness memberships. Addressing just one of these parts of your life can really restore your sense of self, and make you feel more in control of things.
2. Reach out and build a network of support early on. Going at it alone makes you feel isolated and as if you just have to sink or swim. One reason teachers stick around in the profession is because they feel connected. Here’s a few ideas that make can prolong your teaching career:
Don’t wait for your principal or mentor teacher to make the first move! Take initiative to connect early on, so that there’s rapport between you and your school’s community before concerns arise. Talk with other teachers in your department and find out how they plan and effectively collaborate. Serve on a committee you care about. Need some extra hands in the classroom? Seek out a teacher’s aide, or involve parents/volunteers in the classroom. Make sure you take advantage of teacher training at school. Better yet, let NTN support you through classroom visits and new teacher workshops.
And don’t forget about outside of school. Are you in touch with family or friends who believe in you and support you? Make sure to get intentional about meeting up regularly with people who energize you and make you feel positive about you being you.
3. Recreation -- Play is completely underrated! Do you doodle? Have a dog to play with or just like skimming funny memes? A good belly-laugh releases a lot of tension and gets those feel-good endorphins going.
What really makes you feel rested? Is it time on your own, a great view, or do you really just need a 20-minute nap? Don’t let the weight of unfinished work prevent you from taking care of yourself--you’ll be more productive when you re-engage with work if you do it!
4.Reflect — Reflection takes a step back in order to take a step forward. Pausing to think about what’s working well in class and what needs adjusting is a great way to get perspective.
Try “Hots and “Nots.” Before you head home from school, sit down and write what was hot and what was not. What was your part in making the “hots” happen? Keep an encouragement log in a notebook. When you need it, remind yourself of the good stuff that goes on in class, no matter what is getting you down. Why did the “nots” happen? Is there any change you need to make for next time?
Are things really difficult? Finding it hard to get excited about your work, feeling super-negative or just exhausted? Take this short quiz to see if you’re showing signs of burnout. If you are, tell someone! Not just anyone, someone who can help, like a trusted friend, your teacher-mentor or a CPET coach!
When life’s demands are intense, we forget to care for ourselves and get the support we need. This blog is like the reminder on an airplane before you take; in the event of an emergency, secure your own oxygen mask before helping others; otherwise you won’t be able to. And, this analogy couldn’t be more apt for teachers! Through CPET, Teachers College champions early career teachers through the FREE New Teacher Network (NTN@TC) to connect you with the resources you need! Contact us to chat with a coach, attend a workshop, or to link up other new teachers online. We are here for you!