I’m sure you’ve at least heard this at some point in your preparation to become The Best Teacher Ever, but I’m going to say it again. Self care as a teacher is going to be critically important. You cannot be on this self deprecating “I can’t adult today but I’m still cute and relatable!” wave. You must adult. Matter of fact, you’re the ONLY adult. There’s a group of young people who are relying on you to be consistent and reliable and their trust in you absolutely depends on the fact that you are those things.
The energy you bring to the classroom each day will be palpable. The question is, will it be an attractive and warm energy that draws people in or a negative and chaotic energy that causes stress? You will not be able to hide the energy you show up with. Just like you absorb the moods of the people who live in your home, your students will reflect the energy you bring to the classroom each day. Self care can help make it a good one.
How Self Care Affects Your Feedback Loop as a Teacher
First of all, and I shouldn’t have to say this, but someone has to. You can’t do this hungover. You cannot do this hungover! I know what it feels like to come home and want nothing more than to forget the day you had. To want to spend your evening thinking about ANYTHING except for the day you’re going to have tomorrow. To want to sleep without dreams about school. But abusing substances isn’t going to help things get better, even if it’s relaxing in the short term. If need be, take a moment or a few days to let that realization sink in.
By being hungover, you’re creating a Negative Feedback Loop, which I’ll discuss more later. Every day that you come in with a headache and not enough sleep you come mentally unprepared to handle the things that’ll be thrown at you: The 1500 decisions a day that you’re expected to make, a lot of which allow for very little consideration time. You avoid and deflect, but you do not solve anything. By not solving it today, you’ve done nothing but create more work for future you to deal with. If your life is already kind of difficult, you could be well on your way to a breakdown.
Similarly, you’re not going to be able to handle this if your own personal life is a mess. Children are vulnerable and needy. They haven’t yet figured out how to emotionally regulate themselves or to meet their own needs. They’re going to come to you for guidance, support, and encouragement. They haven’t learned how to ask for those things in functional ways. Sometimes they’re going to ask for a hug by throwing a desk. Other days they’re going to look for acceptance by talking back in class.
If you’re drowning in your own emotional turmoil, you’re going to first of all lack the attentiveness required to decipher these strange messages that kids send us about what they need. If you’re already wallowing in your own messes, how can you show empathy for the generations of abuse that have accumulated in a child that comes to your room with emotional disturbances or oppositional defiance disorder. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to see through the fog to the precious child underneath. With the chaos of your own personal life swirling in your mind, you might snap and fire back with insults or passive aggression of your own unique branding, further confusing the child as to what is normal and acceptable behavior.
A Better Alternative
No matter how hard it is at first, come home in the evening and practice self care first. Take a bubble bath. Watch Netflix. Face your problems. Think of a tiny solution. One tiny thing you can change. You don’t have to bulge out your eyes as you demand a solution from your already overtaxed mind. Simply resting in a state of non-avoidance will allow the solutions to come to you. After you thought of something, anything, new to try, allow yourself to be done thinking about work for the day. You’ve made your life a little better for the future. As you grow, you’ll eventually be able to spend less and less energy on these things in your free time! I promise.
If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “I leave work at work! They don’t pay me to work at home. I’m not going to do that!” then you should consider a new career. This job is somewhat all encompassing because it’s everything about you that makes you the person who greets the children at the door each day. They need to know that they matter to you, so that means they can’t be important only during working hours. Your students should be important 24/7, and that means self care is important 24/7 for teachers. But it does get easier.
Track Your Days
To this day, I still mark in my plan book when I have a Very Bad Day. To be fair, I also mark when I have a good day. I just looked through the last two years of plan books, and there’s a noticeably larger quantity of good days than bad. (I don’t mark every day.) Remember: that’s the goal. Not to have 0 bad days, but to have less
You will always have a lesson that flops so bad that you vow to never again do something “interactive” so long as you live. You will always have a kid who comes in like he spent the evening devising plans to ruin your day and he will succeed. No matter how many years you teach or how much time you spend revising your lessons, a perfect storm will still materialize and screw it all up. Keeps us humble I guess.
The thing that I try to remember about Very Bad Days, as I plan my resignation letter on my drive home, is that there’s never 2 in a row. I believe this as a law of physics. I don’t know why it’s true, but it’s been true throughout my whole career. Just when I reach my breaking point and I log onto Linked In, just as I’m googling “jobs to transition to from education” in my lunch break, the next day turns into some kind of bizarre world of order where the students all come with a pencil and remember to ask 3 before me and use inside voices, ALL AT THE SAME TIME.
Taking care of yourself inside and out, and looking directly at the problems will lead to less bad days. Eventually you’ll work less and less from home, and the self care will begin to come more naturally. Some of us started in the classroom before we had fully developed frontal lobes for ourselves. Regardless, there’s always room to grow and when you’re happy and healthy, your entire life (work included) is guaranteed to be more pleasant. If you’re not at that place yet, maybe set this book down and work on it for a few months before you try to master the subtler matters of your classroom and career.
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