Teacher Self Care

If you have ever taken a flight, you’ve likely seen an attendant give everyone the preflight instructions. Somewhere between trays being upright and your seat also being a flotation device, there is always the section about placing an oxygen mask over your mouth before you even attempt to help someone else, especially a child.

In the crazy, hopefully once in a lifetime, flight of 2020, many of us have lost sight of that critical instruction. Between pivoting and powering through, we forgot to stop and first ensure we could breathe. For teachers, taking work home is nothing new and caring about others’ welfare never stopped once school was out for the day. However, like with everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic just amplified things. It’s even harder not to take work home when you never left home to go to work. And the needs are so overflowing it is impossible not to care constantly. So how can a teacher possibly spare a moment toward self-care when there’s too much to do and too little time? The answer lies in finally moving the rank of self-care up to a priority level. No matter how busy you are, you always find the time for the priorities.

The first tip in doing this can lie with your calendar. It likely already shows your priorities, maybe not your likes, but definitely the things that require your time and focus. Go into your calendar and use it as the source of, rather than a weapon against, your self-care. A calendar appointment can help you create boundaries for your time with students. If you set a 30-minute lunchtime, then keep it with yourself. This means no letting students join, not returning an email or the host of other things on your to-list you want to multitask with your meal.  Take the time, consider this your official permission to put it in your calendar, and keep the appointment

The second tip is to turn off the lights at the end of the day. No, this is not a reminder about the electric bill. It is a call to mindfulness as you end your day. No matter if you are at your school or your kitchen table, there should always be a time when you pack up and call it a day. When that time comes, “turn off the lights.” When you turn off the lights in a room as you’re leaving, you place it in the dark. Remember, this does not mean the things in the room cease to exist or that they are not waiting for your return. It is metaphorically turning off the weight of the day in your mind and your heart. It is ok to permit yourself the reprieve offered by placing it in the dark for the rest of the day. Again, it will be there when you return, so don’t allow it to have your constant attention by leaving the lights on.

Remember, self-care is anything we do deliberately take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. So, tip three is simply to be intentional. Whether you use your calendar to set boundaries or pick a certain way to close out your workday, just make sure you intentionally take care of yourself before taking care of others. Sometimes the only way to ensure everyone keeps breathing calmly is to take your own oxygen mask first.