Guest Writer: Dolisha Mitchell
As a teacher, we all know we tend to spend an unhealthy amount of time at school. Early mornings and late afternoons become the theme for each school year. Every year we tell ourselves we’ll have a better work-life balance, but fall victim to those old habits. Before you know it we’re missing birthdays, family functions, and date nights with our significant others. Being a teacher can be all-encompassing at times and at some point, it begins to take a toll on our personal lives. After my second year of teaching, I remember gaining quite a bit of weight, having migraines weekly, and experiencing anxiety for the first time in my life. It was then, that I vowed to practice self-care more often. Here are my go-to practices.
Pick two days per week to go in early and/or stay late. During my second year of teaching, I can recall arriving at work by 7:00 AM every morning and not leaving until 5:00 PM on most days. You’d think I would eventually catch up on some work or get ahead, but this was simply keeping me afloat. To make things worse, when I got home from work I would eat a quick dinner with my husband and immediately begin to grade papers or get on the computer to do more work. I found myself working until around 10:00 PM, which is when I would finally call it a night, hop in the shower, and fall asleep before my head could even hit the pillow. I knew this wasn’t sustainable, but I kept it up for most of the school year. It finally dawned on me that I was adopting some truly unhealthy habits, increasing my blood pressure, and not taking care of myself.
After Spring Break that year, I started a self-care challenge with a few other teacher friends of mine. One of the challenges was to create some clear boundaries between work and home. I was able to do this by picking specific days to go the extra mile. I used those two days to prep for the week or meet with colleagues. I made copies for class, completed lesson plans, graded papers, and organized materials on these two days. The other three days of the week I left work as soon as possible and made this non-negotiable. If I knew there were mandatory school events that week, I put them down on my calendar as one of my “special” works days and still met my goal of spending more time at home 3 out of 5 days per week. This was the most powerful change I made for my personal well-being and I still follow it to the best of my ability each and every week.
Find something to do, just for you. Being married and a teacher, I kind of fell into this sole identity of teacher and wife. I forgot about all the things I enjoyed doing prior to taking on these new exciting roles. I was extremely interested in meditation and mindfulness throughout college, so I naturally fell into yoga. Since we’re being honest here, I have to say I have never actually been to a physical yoga class, as I am still building my confidence and finding my own way. I practice it daily in the comfort of my home watching videos and following along.
My absolute favorite yogi is Adriene Mishler, who has an amazing YouTube channel called Yoga with Adriene. She has hundreds of free yoga videos that you can complete in your free time and at your own pace. If yoga isn’t your thing, what is? It can be a kickboxing class, and after-work nap, nice walk with a friend, or a simple dinner in with family. If you’ve been wanting to try a new hairstyle, get a massage, or visit a museum, do it. Sometimes we build our lives around the school calendar, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time to reclaim the weekend. Or at least Saturdays! Find what works best for you and takes you to a peaceful state of mind.
Use technology to simplify your life as often as possible. There are tons of educational technology programs catered to teachers and students. It can limit the number of papers you have to grade by hand. One of my favorites, Google Classroom, offers the ability to give quizzes online and will grade them if you provide the answer key. This only leaves you left with giving feedback on short answer and essay questions. I love Google Classroom because students and parents can get immediate feedback and let’s be honest the 21st-century student loves using technology. I’ve created Web quest, quizzes, remedial modules, and extracurricular assignments for students to work on throughout the day and even at home. Next up is Google Drive, which provides a great location to organize files digitally and lesson plan with your colleagues virtually.
Imagine leaving school with your arms free of totes, binders, papers, and curriculum books. Lastly, try kindle or other forms of e-books, so you can have your professional library with you at all times without lugging books to and from home and school. I’ve also purchased e-book novels to read aloud with students as a group. This is a great option because you can project the pages and pictures on your board for all students to follow along.
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Surround yourself with positivity. In every workplace I’m sure you can find someone who is fed up, overworked, underpaid, and simply burned out. In education, I find it essential to uplift those people, but don’t allow them to take you to that negative space with them. Constantly complaining, with no action, will never change anything. Unless there is a call to action to change the issues at hand, then I say spend your energy somewhere else or be the change. When we think of social positivity, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate. We spend most days surrounded by colleagues and friends, which can seem to make or break us. There is nothing worse than working on your personal self-care and having someone drowning you with their negativity. This doesn’t mean you can’t be supportive and maybe even invite them to join your journey, but know when enough is enough. Surrounding yourself with positivity is also a physical act.
I tend to post positive quotes around my room, on my notebooks, binders, and even on my phone. These serve as constant little reminders that everything will be alright. I also tend to listen to uplifting music during planning time and have a classroom playlist for independent work time and transitions. In my classroom or office, I only use natural light if possible. In the past, I have covered my fluorescent lights with tranquil blue light filters to create a calmer, engaging environment. Lastly, I use a diffuser to fill my space with the calming aroma of lavender, frankincense, or ylang-ylang. If your school doesn’t allow diffusers, try roll-on essential oils for a personal calming fragrance throughout the day.
I challenge you to try at least one of these strategies this school year. Create a team challenge or share with your administration and make it a school challenge. As the new school year begins, don’t forget to stop and take some time for yourself. You deserve it!