This One's For You: Self-care Tips for Teachers

Summers off with pay, short work days, paid vacations, weekends to yourself - you’re the envy of your friends because they think you have the dream job as a teacher!  Little do they know that teaching is so much more than that.  Being a teacher means spending your own money to purchase supplies that your school doesn't have available.  Being a teacher means that you spend countless hours researching and planning lessons (night and weekends) that will capture the short attention spans of your students.  Being a teacher means that you lose sleep when you’re concerned about a particular student.  Being a teacher means that you shoulder the blame for when society fails.  Being a teacher means that you are more than a teacher; you’re students see you as their mother, father, auntie, uncle, counselor, hairdresser, a shoulder to cry on and the list goes on and on. Yes, it does feel good to have summers off and get longer vacation times than the average person working a 9-5, but the emotional toll it takes to be a teacher can lead to burnout.



This year has been especially hard on those that work in education, due to COVID-19.  We lost the in person connection we had with our students and were pressured by admin, districts higher ups and parents to come up with engaging lessons that would make the children brilliant.  However, people forget that we were also getting used to this new normal.  For those with children, we had to figure out how to balance our own students' needs with our children's needs.  Some of us relied on face to face interaction, that it was a struggle to learn how to engage students online while getting used to learning how to work through Zoom and Google Classroom.  


COVID forced us to face a new reality that many of us were not prepared for.  With that being said, I wanted to dedicate this week to my fellow comrades, the ones that are in the trenches willing to do what it takes for our kids to succeed to say thank you.  So let me talk in a language you all will understand :)


SWBAT:

* Define the terms burnout and self-care

* List the symptoms of burnt out

* Identify the causes of burn out

* Learn what the 6 elements of self-care are

* Apply what the 6 elements of self-care when stressed

* Identify ways to practice self-care and prevent burn out


All jokes aside, my hope for you after reading this blog is to be able to identify when you are heading toward burnout and take care of yourself to avoid it.  Let the lesson begin :)


What Does the Term Burnout Mean?

The state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

I have 2 questions for you.  When did you start to feel this way?  What are you going to do about it?  I tell my students all the time that teachers are people too, however, we need to recognize that for ourselves and take a step back when we start to feel exhausted.  Once we can admit that we’re heading toward burn out, we need to step up our self-care game. 

Finding balance is key when your job starts to overwhelm you.

What are the Symptoms of Burnout?

Now that we know what it means to feel burnt out, let’s talk about how it affects your body:

* Feeling irritable and quick to anger

* No desire to attend social gatherings

* Negative outlook, complaining

* Chronic fatigue or exhaustion

* Chronic insomnia 

* Changes in appetite

* Physical symptoms (head/stomachaches, heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath)

* Brain fog


At one time or another we have felt this way, but with most illnesses the symptoms have to be consistent and persistent in order to be officially diagnosed.  It is very important for you to know your body well so that you can tell the difference.  Keep reading, we’re getting to the good stuff soon!


Can you relate to feeling burnt out?

What Causes Teacher Burnout?

It’s possible that when most of us decided to become a teacher, we didn’t think we’d face some of the hardships that we have.  You may have thought that your training and desire to change the world would trump any feelings of burnout.  If you still feel that way, I’d love to know what our secret is, but for most of us I dare say that ALLLLLLLL of these and more have caused us to question why we do what we do. 


As I write this now (mid August) , the district my husband works in JUST decided to go virtual until November.  They did so reluctantly even after a 9 hour board meeting where all 150+ speakers said they felt safer with going virtually.  From the many conversations I’ve had and comments I see in teacher groups on social media this pandemic has been very hard on teachers.  The disregard for our safety, the demand to open schools despite scientific warnings, the pressure from politicians to open schools even though their loved ones will be home has been emotionally draining on us.


Nevertheless, here are the the causes of teacher burnout:

* Low salary

* Student behavior

* Environmental stress

* Intense workload 

* Administrative issues

* Interactions with parents

* Tedious or repetitive work

* Test score pressure 

* Lack of resources & support

* Unsure how to handle student trauma


How Does Teacher Burnout Impact Your Job Performance?

So class :) Now that we can define the term burnout, we know what causes it and what the symptoms are, let’s talk about how all this can affect our job performance.

* Increased absenteeism

* Decline in classroom performance

* Poor relationships with colleagues, parents and students

* Less empathetic toward students

* Less committed to your job

* Lower tolerance for disruption

* Less prepared and productive


I don’t know about you, but I can relate.  At least once a year I really question why I decided to teach and consider going back to school to start another career.  Getting frustrated, feeling despondent, wanting to stay home and sleep is normal, but what makes these feelings something to worry about is if they are consistent and persistent. 


If you have gotten to the point where your feelings of burnout is affecting your job performance, you really need to take a day or two to practice self care.  It’s best to take some time to show yourself TLC if you still want to teach, and if not, take the time to reflect if you want to take time off for a while or change careers.  Remember, at the end of the day we still are in charge of shaping minds and we should not want to do something through our actions that can damage them.  We need to remember that we have a lot of power and influence over our students and we need to use that power for good.



What does the term SELF-CARE mean? 

The practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress. 

We hear this term all the time, to the point where it’s annoying.


Shameless plug - I wrote a blog not too long ago titled Self-Care: What the Hell Does It Mean? 


Back to the point, we hear it so much that it has become a buzzword that doesn’t hold as much weight as the term should hold.  We see pictures of women who look relaxed and happy while at a spa, but self-care is more than that. 


Here is a list of the different categories of self-care, what it means and a few activities to try out:

1. Emotional - activities that help you connect, process, and reflect on a full range of emotions

- Learn and listen to you body

- Mediate or practice relaxation techniques in-between classes or when you have a free movement during the day

- Know what or who in your job triggers you


2. Practical - tasks you complete that fulfill core aspects of your life in order to prevent future stressful situations

- Make sure your classroom is clean and free of clutter

- Set your clothes out at night, you may be able to sleep an extra few minutes

- Create and stick to a budget, include what you would spend on your classroom


3. Physical - activities you do that improve the well-being of your physical health

- Workout when and where you can

- Drink plenty of water

- Rest when you can and get a good night's sleep


4. Mental - any activity that stimulates your mind or your intellect 

- Read/listen to a book that isn’t work related 

- Create and stick to a social media curfew

- Listen to For My Brown Girls! podcast


5. Social - activities that nurtures and deepens the relationships with people in your life

- Go out with friends and don't talk about work

- Join a support group for teachers

- Make a point to call a good friend more often


6. Spiritual - activities that nurtures your spirit and allows you to think bigger than yourself.  Spiritual self care does not have to be religious, but it can.

- Go to church 

- Write in a journal

- Spend time in nature


These are just a few examples of the different ways to practice self-care, but I want to add more to the list.  Self-care can also include:

- Saying no, it is a complete sentence

- Putting your needs first and not feeling guilty about it

- Leaving work at school (literally and figuratively)

- Don’t let your career become your identity

- Create, set and stick to boundaries

What would you add to the list? 

Fellow teachers, we are overworked, undervalued and blamed which can cause us to feel burnt out, but don’t forget why you wanted to become a teacher in the first place.  Despite our circumstances, we can still make a difference in the lives of our students, but don’t forget about taking care of yourself in the process so that we can give our full joyful selves to the ones left in our care!


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Did you know that I now have a podcast? It's called, For My Brown Girls! Podcast and you can listen to it HERE!


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I am not a licensed therapist. 

This post does not serve as a form of therapy or diagnosis. 

If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or your doctor.

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