I love teaching. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since my junior year of high school. Till this day, my teachers, outside of my family and friends, have had the biggest influence on my life and my pursuit of self-actualization. I still keep in touch with many of my teachers and professors — that’s how much teachers and the teaching profession mean to me.
But there are days….days when I just don’t know how much longer I can stick with this profession that I love oh so much. It’s not about the lack of love — that’s not the issue. It’s everything else — the bureaucracy, the lack of parental support, the issues within impoverished communities of mass incarceration, homelessness, and abuse that inevitably seep into the school community, that have me feeling bewildered and, more often than I care to admit, looking for a way out.
I am not alone.
Teachers are on the front lines addressing the broken children that present themselves before us each day and the need for teacher self-care has risen. Yet, teacher self-care is not addressed nearly as much as it needs to be. Way before we get to teach the respective content area for which we went to school, teachers function as mandated reporters, social workers, surrogate parents, mentors, aunties, uncles, and trusted confidantes to our students. Even the most seasoned teachers admit that this multiplicity of roles becomes emotionally and mentally taxing, requiring teachers to take a step back and give themselves the care they need and deserve.
According to The Educator’s Room, “In our classrooms, it is up to us to set the tone and the classroom culture. When we are stressed, anxious and stretched too thin, it ultimately affects the learning environment. Self-care creates space for one to manage their own needs, thus reducing stress and boosting mood.”
Author Haylee Massaro speaks poignantly to the sentiments of my heart when she writes, “The busy lifestyle oftentimes seems like part the job and thus part of our identity. It can be hard to say ‘no,’ even when you are overloaded, since we are expected to ‘do it all.’ Remember that taking time out for yourself is not selfish but is vital to maintaining your mental health, your classroom culture, and your relationships with the people who you interact with every day.”
Teachers, in our demand to be accountable to our students, peers, schools, families, and communities, are we allocating enough time and energy into being accountable to our own needs? Only each of us individually can answer that question. I have had to ask myself that on numerous occasions, with the odds not tipping in my favor on more than one occasion.
I remember early on in my career — year one or two — when my children, who were then about 13 and 11, had to have an intervention for me because they saw me overworking myself and giving them less and less of my time — time that they so desperately needed and wanted. I woke up early to get to school early. I stayed late to make sure that everything was just right in preparation for my students that next day. When I got home, I was on the phone speaking with my colleagues about the events of the day and how we were going to team up to buy a uniform, conduct a home visit, buy snacks, or set up a conference with a parent for any given student.
The demands of my career were taking over my life and negatively impacting my children right before my very eyes — and I didn’t even see it.
Since then, I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot where teacher self-care is concerned. I don’t stay late at work every evening any more; instead, I have one day out of the week when I stay late, make copies, lesson plan, and prepare for the week ahead. I also do not take papers home to grade. Work stays at work. I give myself leeway to stay at work one additional day during the week when grades are due each marking period — that’s it — no exceptions. I’ve also learned to say no and not feel badly about doing so. Over-commitment and people-pleasing were draining me and stressing me out. I get monthly massages, take a walk every day, pray, and live out my Faith daily. These aspects of my life take precedent and keep me rooted and grounded so that I can be a source of stability and strength for my students.
Teacher self-care looks like different things to different teachers. Find your self-care niche and practice it like your life and your livelihood depend on it. They do.