Being a teacher is flat out, straight up exhausting. It doesn’t matter what age you teach, how well you are supported or how great your kids are. It can be all consuming, and draining; emotionally and physically. Not to mention trying to keep up with everything else in our lives, outside of school!
Studies have been done about the amount of money and hours teachers put into their work, and the numbers are astronomical – although not surprising. I recently read an article about how professional development can prevent compassion fatigue in teachers and it made a lot of sense. The focus was on awareness and mental health.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or burnt out – remember you are not alone! Here are some strategies to cope this year:
1. Ask for Help: This one is the most important. Asking for help (whether your a new teacher, or have been teaching for forever) is not a sign of weakness and does not mean you are failing. It can be as simple as asking someone to watch your class so you can run to the washroom. It can also be asking for help from specialized teachers (spec. ed., guidance, behaviour, math etc.) with a student, lesson or concept. It could be using apps like these for mindfulness or stress. It should be getting help from a professional, especially if you (or someone else) is worried about your mental health. It is just as important as your physical health.
2. Get moving: There are proven benefits from exercise and leading an active lifestyle, certainly, it helps your physical health but it can also help clear your mind, make you take a break and improve your mood. Find something that works for you and your schedule; walking the dog, going for a run, kickboxing, yoga, playing in the park – there are SO many options!
3. Start a “why” file: One of the teachers I worked with told me about this, and it is brilliant. She keeps things from the year; funny pictures, lovely messages or letters, proud moments etc. She puts them in a file called her “Why File” and she told me, whenever she questions being a teacher, or if she is meant to do this crazy job – she opens her file and laughs, tears up and remembers why. You could start your own – physically or digitally today. I promise, it helps.
4. Go to PD: Learn something new. It doesn’t have to be mindfulness or mental health PD, it could be any kind! I always find I am the most motivated and excited about teaching when I have some new lesson, activity or thing to try with my students. They will catch your enthusiasm and it does amazing things for you and your kids.
5. Take a break, with your students: One year I had a very challenging grade 1 group – both high needs and high behaviour. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful TA with me. Whenever our day was just too much, we would look at each other and know: time for a dance party. We would put on music and put away our work. Then we would dance with our students. At the beginning of the year, we had some reluctant participants but as the year went on, we all danced like no one was watching. It was often silly, usually energetic and amazing. It made us all feel better. It doesn’t have to be dancing, but taking a break to do something fun and silly, and maybe active – can help everyone in your class.
6. Take a break, from your students: leave the school at lunch (if you can), send everyone outside at recess, leave the room on your planning time. Take some quiet time for yourself to get things done, or to make a cup of tea and have a snack (my go-to quiet activity). You need a break, just as much as your students do.
7. Take a day: if you are feeling overwhelmed or exhausted – physically and mentally, you need to take a day. Use that extra day however you’d like, but you need to surrender your class to a supply teacher and focus on you.
8. Leave school at school: This one is challenging (possibly for every teacher, ever). I try to either go early to school, or stay late (NOT BOTH!) and my goal is to get things done in those times. I try very hard not to bring home marking or planning – instead trying to use my time at school to get it done so I can spend time with my loved ones and doing things I like. It would be unrealistic to assume or to claim that I never bring work home, but I try not to.
9. Talk about it: A great strategy for mental wellness is to talk about it. Venting is important. It could be your family, a friend, a teacher friend – find someone to talk to, about the good things and the bad things. I have also found it incredibly valuable to talk to my students about how I’m feeling as well – excited, frustrated, tired, proud. I think being a role model of how to express your emotions, and being human, is so beneficial for you and your students.
10. Take care of you: Listen to your body, make healthy choices and do what you need to do. There are all kinds of healthy things you can do at school; drink enough water, eat healthy lunches and snacks, get outside. It is also important to get enough sleep, rest when you’re sick and to have a life outside of school.
Being a good teacher does mean a lot of hard work, however, you cannot excel at teaching if you do not take care of yourself. Focus on you, and put yourself first.