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I had a great mentor teacher my first year teaching. We shared the same room, and as someone who had zero experience in student teaching, I really needed the guidance. One of the most important things she taught me that year was that I should stay home when I am sick. Taking a sick day is important.
I know that for most teachers it’s easier to come in for the day than it is to figure out an assignment that can be done without them—and then deal with the aftermath of that assignment and maybe a discipline report or two. But ever since that first year of teaching, I have stayed home when I am sick. I’m sure you already know that phrase that you can’t pour from an empty cup—in other words, how can you give (and give and give) to your students if you are exhausted and depleted yourself?One of the most important things I've learned is that I should stay home when I am sick Click To Tweet
I often think of that song by The Offspring called “Self Esteem.” One of the great lines is this: “The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care.”
I have known my share of teacher-martyrs—the ones who give everything, the ones who don’t hold back or really take much care of themselves. They can often be seen with a giant cup of coffee, rushing through the halls to get to another activity meeting, after staying up until 2 AM grading tests the night before. And after running themselves ragged they often get sick, and they often go into school when they are sick.
Activities and sports and clubs are all great—but only when they nourish the teacher as well as the students.
Instead of spreading myself thin, I gave 100 percent during the school hours, and when the end of the day hit, I went home to live the rest of my life.
I never stayed late to decorate the gym for homecoming, I never coached a sport, and I never texted a student outside of school. I took sick days when I needed them. I usually said no when asked to be on committees or to chaperone dances on a Saturday night. I did stay after school and come in early to help students with papers or college essays, though. I chose my area and I focused on that.
With all the talk of teachers being superheroes or loving their job or teaching because it is a passion, I think that self care can be seen as something that isn’t as important. But I also saw many great teachers who didn’t make it past two or three or five years. They burned out fast, and maybe they would have lasted longer if they had given a little more to themselves and a little less to their school.
I ended up burning out a little in the end, but I lasted sixteen years, and I think I got out before it was too bad.
I went to bed early every night, even if it meant that I wouldn’t have the quizzes back the next day (or the day after that either). I went to the gym before school so that I would make sure to get a workout in—meaning that my first-thing-in-the-morning was all about me. I almost never took work home so that I could concentrate on my own kids and spending time with my family.
Teaching doesn’t have to be more and more suffering. You can show that you care for your students by caring for yourself first.