How Do We Teach and Have a Healthy Life?
A MiddleWeb Blog
In addition to a poorly-timed, major DIY home remodeling project, I took two graduate classes to apply for my teaching license renewal, presented at two national and one state conference, took on a new class at school, began writing a new monthly blog (this one), and decided to revamp major portions of my classroom curriculum.
This was coupled with trying to assist parents and in-laws going through some tough health issues of their own.
I don’t provide this list as some kind of bragging rights. I don’t think how busy we all are should be a competition. Plus, I know all teachers (or other caregivers) out there can relate and have a similar list of their own.
I share this information to put this article in its proper context– namely that is was written by a teacher in full exhaustion and in illness mode hoping (and needing) to make a change soon. You may be such a teacher, too.
Why don’t we take better care of ourselves?
I truly thought I was handling this crazy schedule well until I ended up in urgent care on Thanksgiving with an unconfirmed diagnosis of scarlet fever and a bottle of antibiotics. As I got angry with myself for letting it get this far, I reflected on how I should have seen the signs before I got to this point.
I truly love my career, and I have never wavered on my commitment to being a teacher. However, I cringe when I recall how mired down in negativity I have been this fall. I have a great job, yet I joined in on every single complaining session, even starting some myself.
There were many evenings where I sat, staring at the television, and felt like crying for no discernable reason. I passed up several social opportunities, even when I had really wanted to go. I was even starting to lose my patience with my students and not giving them the care they deserved.
Just as I was on the edge of melting down completely, I found respite in knowing I would be attending the National Council of Teachers of English convention right before Thanksgiving break. Because of social media, I now know many others who attend this conference, and it feels like a class reunion every time. I knew I would find some sort of inspiration to get me out of my funk. And I did.
What we can learn from fellow teachers
Several friends of mine gave a presentation subtitled “How to Be an English Teacher and Have a Life.” It was so popular that people were sitting in the hallway hoping to glean some of their wisdom. I had seen them give this presentation over the summer and knew they had great ideas to share about prioritizing what they were teaching and grading in order to make room for enjoying their lives. I took comfort in the fact that this topic struck a chord in my peers and that I was not alone in feeling overwhelmed.
The next day, I was a round table leader at a presentation about being a reflective teacher. At my table a calm, smiling professor from Singapore provided such profound wisdom that I immediately begged him to write his thoughts down in a book.
He reminded me that there is no “best” practice or “perfect” teacher, there are only more or less effective techniques. He said that as long as we are working to the best of our knowledge and capacity, then we are doing right by our students. I was truly grateful for this exchange. I also secured his contact information for future conversations. Our table came to consensus that we should have the confidence to do what we know is good for kids and share our ideas with others.
Bright Idea: My Stress Management Plan
Even though I came home from the convention ill and exhausted, I was still invigorated and inspired. Instead of remaining angry and frustrated about getting ill over vacation (again), I am going to take charge of the situation and see if I can make significant changes to avoid a repeat.
I decided I needed to make a Stress Management Plan so that I could enjoy a germ-free winter break.
First, I will take care of my physical health. This seemed the easiest to tackle because I know exactly what I was doing wrong this fall. I craved salt, sugar, and fat and gave in to these cravings far too often. I was not sleeping well and often found myself wide-awake at 3 AM for no good reason aside from stress.
I quit doing yoga and barely even found time to walk more than up and down the halls at school. I found numerous excuses to avoid my yearly dentist visit. I couldn’t even find time to squeeze in the one luxury I allow myself – a monthly massage – into my schedule. There is no excuse for this and it ends today.
My dear friend, Nancy, who is a hospice nurse, reminded me that I can’t give what I don’t have. Sound advice, indeed. I know I feel better when I drink my homemade green smoothies for breakfast, eat healthful food, drink plenty of water, and get enough rest and exercise, so I just need to make this more of a priority.
from “Doing More Isn’t Doing Better” NCTE presentation
Second, I will take care of my emotional well being. It is not normal for me to feel on the edge of tears all the time, and I should not have neglected that as a sign that I needed to change. Instead, I will find time to spend with my friends and family that does not involve shoptalk. I treasure these people, and I have neglected them this school year.
Instead of the whining and gossip that I had been engaging in with colleagues, I will try to focus on all of the blessings our job affords us and the fact that we have each other for support. I love to have fun and can recall only a handful of times when I had a good belly laugh this fall. I need to find time to get back to laughing every day.
I have also neglected the hobbies that bring me joy. My plan is to contact friends I haven’t seen in a while and arrange a meeting, do activities that make me happy, give my brain a break when needed, and focus on all of the good in my life.
from “Doing More Isn’t Doing Better” NCTE presentation
Third, I will make a professional attitude adjustment. At the beginning of the school year, I had high hopes that the ideas I worked on over the summer would be somehow life changing and I would finally be the “perfect” teacher I hoped to be.
While they were successful, nobody is perfect. Instead of feeling guilty that I am not the perfect teacher, I need to appreciate that I am doing enough to be good for my students. I need to focus on what is most meaningful and prioritize the learning opportunities I offer as well as how they will be assessed (if at all).
I need to realize that I am only human and it is not possible to revamp everything all at once. Taking baby steps toward incorporating change is still progress. I am going to surround myself with inspiration and focus on why I went into this profession in the first place and why I keep coming back. Teaching is the best job in the world.
Most important, I will not allow myself to feel guilty or selfish for taking care of me. As a teacher, I am the tools I use to do my job. As with any other profession, I need to care for my instrument. I am starting today by posting these words of my favorite poet/artist, Brian Andreas, on my wall:
What about you? What’s your stress management plan? Share in the comments…