By Lisa Koplik, with Teacher Vision
The past year and a half have not been easy for anyone in any profession. It has been a particularly challenging time for teachers. The trajectory of a teacher’s life, up until March of 2020, was a predictable routine: show up for school in the fall, have breaks sprinkled in from Thanksgiving through summer, and then do it all again next year.
What March of 2020 brought was a complete lack of routine, change, inconsistency, and confusion—the complete opposite of a teacher’s favorite aspects of their profession! We chose to teach because we crave routine, structure, and feeling in control of our classrooms. That has changed with the pandemic.
As a result, it’s more important than ever to develop your well-being practice. To protect yourself from burnout—a reality for many teachers this year—make sure to engage in these five principles of teacher well-being:
1. Say no
2. Enact strong boundaries
3. Take mental health days off
4. Talk with close confidants
5. Know you’re not alone.
1. Say No
“No.” What a simple, short word. “No” is, in fact, a sentence all on its own, self-sufficient, one which doesn’t require any further explanations.
Teachers usually have people-pleasing personalities mainly due to their immense empathy and understanding for others. However, people-pleasing often pleases everyone but the pleaser.
Teachers notoriously take on way too much responsibility at school, and it is time we feel comfortable saying no. The pressure that comes with saying ‘yes’ to more than we can handle creates mental distress, anxiety, sleeplessness, and a lack of focus on the pieces of our work that truly matter: the students’ and our mental health.
2. Enact Strong Boundaries– and Keep Them
Take some time at the beginning of the school year to determine the boundaries you need.
Maybe you’re someone who does your best work at 10 PM once the kids have gone to sleep. Perhaps you like to check your emails between 5 and 6 AM with a cup of coffee. Perhaps you’re able to get all of your work done within your contract hours. Whatever it may be to do your best work, a schedule you can stick to is absolutely and completely acceptable.
Pro tip: Make sure to communicate your plan to those around you! There is zero shame in stating your working hours to the students and families you work with. You are allowed to have your own life outside of the confines of school hours, and when you enact firm boundaries, you’re more likely to keep them.
3. Take Mental Health Days Off
Burnout comes when the grind of your daily life becomes too much, and there is no time to pause and rest.
When teachers continue to push through because “it’s for the kids,” or it feels like the world will collapse if they are not there to help, it’s a massive disservice to everyone involved. Teachers cannot do their best work if they are mentally and physically drained. Students will not learn as much or as well if their teacher is burnt out!
Taking a day off here and there to protect your mental health is okay and encouraged. Being our best selves often comes with some rest and time to care of our own needs..
4. Talk with Close Confidants
Nobody quite understands a teacher’s life better than another teacher.
So, try to find at least one colleague, friend, or family member, who has some semblance of understanding of all the teaching nuances.
Having someone who understands what you’re going through creates an opportunity for discussion that might make no sense to someone outside of the teaching profession. In addition, it lends a shoulder to cry on and allows for productive conversations that may involve simply listening or valuable advice.
5. Know You’re Not Alone
The pandemic is affecting the third straight school year, and this is not easy for anyone. Pretending that everything is normal, fabulous, and super is unrealistic and unhelpful.
The first step toward feeling more in control and mentally secure is recognizing that we’re living under a traumatic stressor due to the pandemic and that our emotions matter. Everyone is going through a similar emotional flurry, even if they aren’t actively expressing it. Our students are passing through it too.
When you’re feeling out of routine, out of control, and burned out, chances are, numerous students and teachers you work with are feeling the same way. Talk about it. Recognize it. Validate it. Feel the vulnerability of taking a second to sigh, cry, or mourn the loss of what we had before. We are in this together, and you are not alone.
I hope my tips and advice help you maintain your well-being this school year. If you’re ready to develop your own practice to improve your teacher well-being, explore the self-care resources available on TeacherVision.com.
About Lisa Koplik
Lisa Koplik is an advisory board member for Teacher Vision and has taught fourth grade in Wakefield, MA for five years. While she teaches all subjects, her favorite parts of the school day include math and engaging realistic fiction read alouds. When not at school, she loves to try out new recipes and work out at The Energy Barre. She writes The Diary of A Busy Teacher blog posts for TeacherVision.