Taking Care of Yourself

Beth Melton

As teachers, it can be easy to ignore our own needs. We are in a helping profession; and for many of us, we're here because we want to - well - help. That often translates into giving, giving, giving until we are absolutely fatigued and can't do it anymore. Teacher burnout is destroying the profession. Eight percent of teachers leave every year, and less than a third of them are leaving for retirement (according to Linda Darling-Hammond). There are a lot of things to be said about the ways in which "the system" can help to support teachers better, and most of these things are entirely valid. But that's not what I'm discussing today. Today, I want to talk about how you can take care of yourself, allowing you to be there for your students.

You have needs too While it feels natural for many of us to consider the needs of our students and adapt our classroom environment meet those needs, we often forget that we have needs too. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is not just for children. Maslow's theory lays out the needs of all people. When your lower-level needs (like sleep, food, safety, love, etc.) are not met, you are unlikely to fully support students. Because in order to support students, we really have to operate in a place of self-esteem and self-actualization, which are higher up on the pyramid. So, while it may feel like taking away from your work to take care of yourself, you are actually helping your students by ensuring that your basic needs are met so that you can give more to them.

Make a commitment to yourself If you are going to take care of yourself, you have to make a commitment to do it. Teaching is a profession that demands a lot of us. You have to make this commitment if it is not going to swallow you up, and this commitment is a choice. Happy Teacher Revolution is a group that helps teachers do just that. They have developed a list they call The 12 Choices which gives teachers a list of affirmations that they can commit to every day. This list is a great place to start with self-care in your teaching.

Find time for your family, friends, and yourself One of the most helpful tips I ever identified when I was in the classroom came from The Well-Balanced Teacher. In this book, Anderson argues that we cannot possibly do everything we are asked to do, so we have to prioritize and become efficient with those things that must get done. One of the ways he suggests doing this is to create a weekly schedule for yourself - a schedule that includes time at school, time for planning, time for paperwork, etc. as well as time for exercise, meals, time with family, time with friends, time for yourself - whatever it is that fills you up. While this may seem like an unnecessarily structured way to do things, I found that it was freeing. When I said that I would every day, without exception, leave my classroom by 5:00 every evening and not take any work home, I found that my time at school became more focused - I didn't allow myself to get distracted by things that didn't matter, and I wasn't just doing "one more thing" all night long. I've suggested this strategy to new teachers, and I had one come back and tell me, "You know, Beth, when you told us to do that, I thought it was over the top, but really, it changed my life." Schedule in time to do the things that matter to you personally. Your students benefit from having a "well-balanced" teacher just as much as you do.

Invest in your own professional learning Research on self-efficacy tells us that when we have a sense that we can be effective in our jobs, we are happier, more fulfilled, and healthier. While finding time for professional development may be challenging, if we can find ways to make professional learning a priority, we feel more effective, which is a way of taking care of ourselves. So, find a time in the year where taking a class feels manageable, get together with your team or other colleagues and read an article in the SEED PAK together, or find a conference you'd like to attend. However you do it, professional learning - especially professional learning that is tied to the work you do with students every day - is a gift to yourself.