The Teacher's Take
Teachers aren't the only professionals who neglect self-care. Therapists and doctors see back-to-back clients. Chefs and parents don't get nights, weekends, or holidays off. While the importance of self-care may resonate with people from various walks of life, I'm talking to directly to you, teacher tribe. It's easy for us rationalize skipping self-care. It's easy to say that we'll eat lunch tomorrow or promise ourselves that we'll head to the gym this weekend. But when will we actually follow through? When will we actually put our well-being first?
As a first year teacher, I worked 90 hours a week. I told myself that it would all be worth it, and I rationalized the long hours by saying that there was a steep learning curve. And while that was true, I'm five years into the profession, and I still work about 70 hours a week.
One of my biggest role models was an angel among humans. Her grace, poise, confidence, and rebellious streak made her an instant favorite. In my first year, I went to her regularly to learn her secrets. What I learned is that she let students rewrite any essay. What I learned is that to be a superhero teacher meant getting up at 3:00 am to grade before school. What I learned is that greatness comes with a price.
Deb won awards at the school and district level for her unparalleled devotion and talent. But Deb also battled colon cancer for a decade. Looking back on her career, she did believe that giving too much was a huge factor in getting sick in the first place. In the middle of my second year, she passed away, and I was devastated.
Even after hearing Deb reflect on her lack of work/life balance, I emulated her work ethic. I stayed until 7:00 pm grading, planning, and copying. I still sit down for marathon grading on the weekends.
Stop the Guilt
Teachers, especially English teachers, lug home stacks of grading. Our spring breaks and three day weekends are a time for us to get caught up on work when they should be a time for us to actually connect with our spouse, relax with friends, and enjoy hobbies. There is a unique guilt that comes with teaching. In fact, there is a hashtag dedicated to this concept (the only hashtag I follow on Instagram) #stopteacherguilt. I am amazed that teachers across the nation struggle with work/life balance. Giving ourselves permission to focus on self-care means that we are neglecting our work. Since our work is nurturing tiny humans, we feel guilty if we put ourselves first. They are our nation's future. Their education is in our hands. How can we selfishly choose ourselves over the children?
My Aha Moment
Health and well-being have been a bigger priority to me this school year, but I still have been sacrificing too much. Last week, I got sick for the 4th time in 6 weeks. Week 1 was the flu, week 2 was a cold, and week 3 was a different cold. Here's the crazy part; I came to school the entire time.
Week 4 was spring break, and week 5 was gloriously healthy with me returning to my pilates class. But week 6 was one of the nastiest tonsil and sinus infections I've ever experienced. I came to school even though I had no voice. I taught via Google Slides and my students were absolute angels. My classroom has never been so silent. My students have never been so rapt. So of course, I continued to rationalize my choice. My sophomores were doing presentations, and a sub couldn't grade them. Creating sub plans and making copies takes more time and energy than it would to just teach while sick.
By Wednesday, I was really over it. All I do is put my job before my health. I always choose the kids over me. The thing is, I know better. I know that I cannot give from an empty vessel.
So here's my aha moment. No matter how badly I want to make a difference in my students' lives, I refuse to do it at the cost of my health. I cannot give from an empty vessel.
I really have an entire network to thank for driving me to my decision to take time off. I have my husband who is constantly on my case about taking care of myself. I have current and former students encouraging me to take care of myself. I have friends, other teachers, and mentors encouraging me to take care of myself. I also have the Instagram community of teachers who post inspirational, hilarious, or frustrating and sad truths about teacher life.
In the end, I just needed to give myself permission to practice self-care. I took two days off of work. I watched Netflix, I drank tea, I cuddled my puppy, and I napped.
Teacher tribe, we know what we need to do. So let's stop making excuses. Let's stop whirring around campus and actually eat lunch. Let's hydrate and then not be available EVERY nutrition so we can use the bathroom. Let's leave the stack of papers at school so we can have a date night with our very patient, supportive spouse. Let's take care of ourselves so we don't wind up bitter, stressed out, burned out, and sick.
Enjoy your weekend,
I'm a Southern California teacher who loves the outdoors, weekend DIY projects, gardening, and baking.