Burnout, talent drain, years of education only to buy your own school supplies. Parents who don’t care and parents who care too much. Hormonal kids, social media, bullying, child suicide. Where does it stop? Is a teacher an educator-or a health and wellness provider? Who provides self-care for teachers?
Self-care and wellness are paramount for educators. Their days start early and end late — with rarely any breaks in-between. For instance, teachers in Mecklenburg County get to school anywhere from 5:45-8:00 a.m. everyday depending on their school bell. Once the teacher gets in, they might have 25 to 30 minutes to prepare for their day until those bright, shiny, happy children appear. Wait…cue the record scratch…did I say bright, shiny and happy? Oh no, I meant sleepy, aggravated, snarling or bored children at six or seven in the morning.
From that time on, teachers are usually on their feet all day and may or may not eat lunch. Maybe they have successfully fielded all the hugs, occasional bumps and children who cough and sneeze with no abandon…maybe not. Then finally the school day is over — or is it? There is carpool or bus duty, after school meetings and parent conferences. Once those activities are done, it’s time to sit in Charlotte traffic. Has it been a good day or a day? Are they energized or drained? Let’s just try to make it home and grade papers, enter grades and plan lessons before dinner.
Does the physiology of the educator’s day affect mental health? You bet.
If we were to re-cap the day, we can see the gaps in self-care and wellness for educators (or just people in general) and what’s needed to make for better days:
So, sleep for a teacher promotes good mental health, productivity and mood. But, the early mornings may be cutting off some necessary zzzzzs. According to the Sleep Foundation, adults 26 to 64 need seven to nine hours of sleep daily (www.sleepfoundation.org, “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need”). The average educator falls short of those needed hours. Neurologist and former teacher Judy Willis says the average teacher is reported to sleep only six hours a night (www.theguardian.com, “Teacher’s guide to sleep – and why it matters, Judy Willis, November 2014). Willis also says with inadequate sleep comes irritability, forgetfulness, lower tolerance of even minor annoyances, and less efficient organization and planning. What are some tips to promote better/more sleep? Stretching, cooler sleeping environments, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed, warm baths/showers, relaxing music and writing down any concerns you may have had during the day.
Make sure to eat healthily and regularly. It’s important to eat whole foods at regular intervals throughout the day — maybe eat small meals and snacks every two and one-half hours
Manage Your Workload
If you’re used to saying “yes” to everything, it’s time to start saying “no.” In a www.planbook.com article, neuroscientist and mind-body expert Claudia Aguirre says that many teachers say yes to things out of habit, even when their workload can’t acquire an additional task. “Planning and rehearsing how to say ‘I wish I could, but I can’t really take on more responsibilities’ – before the task is asked of us – will habituate us to respond this way,” Aguirre adds (www.planbook.com, “Self-Care for Teachers: Wellness Practices In and Out of the Classroom”).
Take a couple of minutes out of the day to focus and reflect on the positives. Practice breathing exercises to help calm your mind and body. In a www.guardian.com article, experts say breathing deeply takes our body from a fight-or-flight state towards a calm and balanced one. The article goes on to say that being aware of your breath for a few minutes every day, right before your class begins, or even with the students, can have amazing benefits for your health.(www.theguardian.com, “Four Scientific Ways Teachers Can Cope With Stress,” February 2016.)
There’s no denying the benefits of exercise when it comes to self-care and wellness. Exercise allows the mind and body to exert energy that improves your thoughts and can also improve your waistline. Try a form of exercise (running, etc.) for at least 30 min per day.
All of these tips combined can make for better work and learning environments for educators and students. After all, it’s important to take care of our educators daily, as they take care of our students every day.