Teachers are nurturers at heart. They give so much of themselves daily at the sacrifice of their own well being. How many teachers have forgotten to eat lunch because they were so busy prepping for the next lesson? How many have skipped going to the doctor to take care of that nagging cough because grades were due? Unfortunately this is a common phenomena in the education world.
Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs one can have. Stress levels are up there with nurses and physicians. Many statistics suggest how the stress of teaching negatively affects the health and wellbeing of teachers. According a report on Teacher Stress and Health published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 46% of teachers report high daily stress, which compromises their health, sleep, quality of life, and teaching performance. This report also finds that when teachers are highly stressed, students show lower levels of both social adjustment and academic performance.
These stress levels are causing many teachers to leave the profession all together. The National Center for Education Statistics on Teacher Attrition and Mobility reports that approximately 60% of teacher who left the profession in 2012-2013 reported that the ability to balance personal life and work was better in their current position than in teaching.
This is an epidemic that is rarely being addressed. If teachers are stressed, they are not bringing the best versions of themselves to the classroom. This in turn causes a domino effect of low morale, teacher attrition, poor student achievement, and failing schools.
What can teachers do in the meantime to maintain their sanity amongst the proverbial chaos of teaching? Here a few ways teachers can commit to taking care of ourselves.
- Teachers must rid get of “teacher guilt” – Teachers must stop beating themselves up whenever they take a day off. Can a teacher effectively deliver the perfect lesson if they are sick? Most school districts provide sick and/or personal days in preparation for teachers needing to take days off. We all know that life happens, and it does not normally happen after 3:00 or on weekends. Teacher must give themselves permission to take care of their personal needs. It is okay to make yourself a priority sometimes!
- Teachers must find an outlet – Finding ways to channel your stress is the first step to maintaining your health. Whenever we are bombarded with a myriad of tasks that must be done within a school day, we need to stop, find a quiet place, and take a few deep breaths. Also, go for a walk, exercise, practice mindfulness and make sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. These natural remedies can be extremely beneficial when you are feeling overwhelmed.
- Teachers must find an ally – Finding someone to be your accountability partner is truly beneficial in self care. Make sure your ally is one who has a positive outlook so you don’t fall prey to the endless complaints of what’s wrong in education. This type of negative talk can affect you and negate suggestions #1-2. If you are unable to find someone at school, create a Twitter account and read the hashtag #selfcare. There are many accounts to follow including @thezenteacher and @teacher2teacher who post reminders about ways teachers can take care of themselves.
Practicing self care and putting yourself first does not make you selfish, nor does it make you a bad teacher. It makes you a better teacher! Find a happy teacher, and I will guarantee you that teacher is practicing self care techniques. Taking care of yourself ensures better health and wellbeing which leads to a better, healthier version of yourself. Incorporate these steps into your daily life and watch your quality of teaching drastically improve. Teachers deserve to be happy and students deserve to have a happy teacher teaching them. Resolve to put yourself first by practicing self care this new year so that you can become the best teacher you can be.
Tanya Hill is a 3rd grade ESL teacher at Kate Bond Elementary. She is a National Board Certified Reading Specialist with over twenty years of teaching experience. Tanya has served as a Learning Coach, ESL District and Regional Presenter, ESL Seminar Leader for the New Teacher Project and a National Board Certification Candidate Support Provider. Tanya currently serves as a facilitator for Teach Plus Memphis leading their Teacher-Led Professional Learning Network. Tanya holds a Master of Education in Literacy and ESL and a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from the University of New Orleans. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.