911: How to Douse the Flames of Teacher Burnout with Self-care
There were many ignitors that fanned my flames of burnout while I was a classroom teacher, but if I were to pick the greatest source of fuel to my fire it would be my lack of self-care while I was teaching. Taking care of everyone else’s needs before my own was like pouring gasoline on an already growing flame. When working in a high-stress job such as teaching, guilt about taking care of YOU should not be something that you add to your already full plate. Self-care is not selfish. You absolutely cannot serve effectively as a teacher if you are not prioritizing taking care of yourself along with meeting the needs of your students and family.
Self-care is hugely important for any teacher. But because it is so near and dear to my heart and own personal experience (and because there are so many of you out there), I want to take a moment to talk specifically to you, Teacher Mama….
Mamas…I see you. I see you taking care of other people’s children. I see you missing the first day of school for your own child to be in your classroom. I see you missing their field trips, concerts, and lunch dates because you are a public servant. I see you grading papers at soccer practice after working all day. I see you scrambling to organize dinner and keep up with the laundry when you are dead ass tired. I see you trying to be everything to everyone while putting yourself very last on your list. When you come home from teaching after a long day there is no break from children or trying to meet the needs of the needy.
Teacher Mamas…I know you love your babies with all your heart. Your heart is especially unique because you hold not only the love for your own children but extreme love for other people’s children too. They are your kids for a school year and beyond. But in order for you to be the best teacher and mom that you can be it is essential to realize the value of self-care. You also must stop putting up a façade that life is perfect, and you can do it all. I blame social media for fanning that flame. Facebook pictures are often staged. Instagram has lots of cool filters. When we see the lives of others through these filtered, staged pics we begin comparing ourselves to a messed-up version of reality. Stop comparing and do more self-caring.
RECOGNIZING WHEN YOU HAVE A LACK OF SELF-CARE
Somehow, we have decided as a society that the more you work the better you are. Coming in to school early and staying late must equate to you being an excellent, dedicated teacher. A former principal would often remind us as a staff that there is a difference between working hard and working smart. Of course, there will be days when a few extra hours at school are beneficial and essential. Just make sure you’re being smart about it. Are you burning the candle at both ends? Look below to see.
You work extreme hours while at school. You are the first to arrive and the last to leave.
You bring hours of work home each night.
You put the needs of everyone else before your own (e.g. students, spouse, offspring, coworkers, parents).
You are tired, moody, and often angry. You may snap at the ones you love the most.
You always say, “Yes” even when you do not want to.
You have stopped taking care of your health and eat food that is bad for you. This includes medicating your stress with alcohol, fast food, or treats.
You get less than seven hours of sleep each night.
You do not exercise or barely at all.
You have no time for hobbies or extracurricular activities.
You rarely do anything that you love to do.
HOW TO EXTINGUISH THE FLAMES
Without a doubt, some of the symptoms from the above list will happen throughout your school year and throughout your life. Being a teacher does not mean you are not a human. What you want to do is self-check your self-care. How often are you bringing home work each night? Do you often feel angry at school and/or at home? Are you a doormat for others? Do you always say yes? These are self-sabotaging behaviors. Self-care is the opposite of self-sabotage. There are many strategies to douse the self-sabotaging flames. Below are a few ideas to get you started.
Do something little for yourself each day. It does not need to be anything that costs any money (e.g. go for a walk, call your sister, meditate, spend time with your pet, take a bath).
Check in with your feelings. First accept that you feel angry, sad, or upset. Those feelings are okay to feel! Next allow the feelings to go when they are ready to leave you. If you are holding onto anger, sadness, or regret each day that is when they become problematic and when you may need to seek additional resources to help with those feelings (e.g. therapy or your doctor).
Ask for help when you need it. You do not have to be Wonder Woman or Super Man. It is okay to admit you are struggling and need a little help. That does not make you less of a teacher or parent.
Connect with your friends or Work Wife. Laughing and having fun with people you love really is a good medicine.
Drink water. Seriously. Quit the Diet Coke.
Go to bed earlier. Sleep is self-care.
Exercise daily. This doesn’t mean you have to be a CrossFit hero, but you should move your body and take care of yourself somehow each day. Teacher, go for a walk!
Say NO without giving an explanation or an apology. You don’t need to be rude about it but saying no to things that deplete you is a form of self-care.
Teachers live a life of service. You are serving the needs of students, families, and your school family. Teachers serve our community and our future. Having a career or vocation in service is a gift. Focusing on self-care does not mean you have lost sight of your purpose as an educator. It simply means you are recharging your own battery, so that you have the energy to be a more powerful light in our world.