As you guide students through social-emotional learning, make sure you’re taking care of yourself too.
Being a teacher is never easy, but for the past two years, it’s been exceptionally hard.
Every day, we see articles discussing how teachers are leaving their jobs in record numbers. And while we understand why this is happening, it saddens us because students need dedicated and compassionate teachers.
Given this, we want to take a moment to say that we see you. We hear you. We understand that the past two years have probably been the most challenging of your career.
We know that there is no magic button we can push to immediately make your job easier and that larger systemic changes are needed, but in the spirit of gratitude and solidarity, we want to share some simple self-care tips for teachers. Because SEL isn’t just for students!
Social-Emotional Learning Is for Teachers Too!
As you’re probably aware, increased attention has been recently paid to social-emotional learning for students as they return to classrooms after virtual learning and, recently, face another round of school closures. Equipping students with SEL skills is of the utmost importance during these stressful and uncertain times, but it’s imperative to focus on the social-emotional well-being of teachers too.
Here are seven research-backed tips for taking care of yourself in your classroom and beyond. Following these tips won’t erase all the stresses of your job, but they might make each day feel a little more doable.
1. Actually Take Time for Yourself
Many of us talk a big game about taking time for ourselves but aren’t as great with the follow-through. And with all the prepping, grading, and nurturing that your career entails, it’s true that “me time” is limited.
But it’s imperative to set aside time to do the things that energize you, be it jogging, yoga, journaling, gardening, reading, or spending time with your friends, family, or pets. Countless studies show that decompressing activities make us happier and more productive, which will help us be better teachers. So guard this time, and don’t let anything interfere with it.
If your district hasn’t already, you could ask them to look into time-saving teaching solutions, such as MATHia or Fast ForWord, that automate grading and streamline lesson planning. Using tools like these allows teachers to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time on the more emotionally rewarding aspects of teaching and on hobbies.
2. Put Ideas in a Jar
It may sound cheesy, but don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!
Make an “idea jar” of short, uplifting activities for open spots in your day. Having 10-minute activities at your fingertips will make self-care feel more feasible. For example, you could include activities such as “take a five-minute break” or “zone out with a cup of tea for ten minutes.” As a bonus, if students see the idea jar on your desk and ask about it, you can take the opportunity to discuss why self-care is important and maybe even inspire them to make an idea jar of their own.
3. Lean on Your Colleagues
You know that your colleagues are as stressed as you are, which means that you might be reluctant to ask them for help. But given the fact that good relationships at work significantly impact worker happiness, you should resist the urge to do your work in a bubble. After all, teachers are a naturally helpful bunch, and your colleagues, particularly those who’ve been teaching for a while, probably have oodles of lesson plans, classroom activities, teaching strategies, and pep talks to share with you.
Ideally, administrators should set aside time for teachers to connect with each other in learning communities. Colleagues can use this time to share triumphs and difficulties, troubleshoot, offer support, and plan curriculum together. There’s nothing quite like collaborating with people who are in the same boat.
While you’re relating to your colleagues, practice expressing gratitude towards them in the form of a short handwritten note. Showing gratitude, particularly in written form, is a simple thing you can do to boost your sense of well-being. And your colleague will appreciate it too!
4. Model Good Boundaries
Of course, you want to be there for your students, but it’s okay to make it known that you have a life outside of school. Be transparent with your students about what they can expect from you, particularly when it comes to when you’ll be available to meet with them. It’s fine to say no to early morning or late afternoon meetings. It’s also reasonable (and healthy!) to take breaks during the school day.
When it comes to requests from colleagues and administrators, say no when you need to. If you just don’t have time for another task force or committee, say so. Colleagues will respect you for establishing healthy boundaries and be more encouraged to do the same for themselves.
5. Protect Your Sleep
It gets repeated so often that it’s almost a cliché, but getting adequate sleep is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health. Sleep deprivation can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, immunodeficiency, and hormonal abnormalities. Plus, it generally makes you more irritable with your students and colleagues, who need you to be well-rested, particularly during such a tense time.
Being a teacher is synonymous with early mornings, and not much can be done to change that, which means that you need to protect your bedtime. Establish a nightly ritual that helps you wind down, and generally practice good sleep hygiene, including turning off all screens at least an hour before sleep.
6. Refuse to Take Work Home
While on the topic of clichés, let’s talk about the teacher who spends all their afternoons, evenings, and weekends lesson planning and grading. Don’t be that teacher! Rather, set aside an hour or two during the school day to prep and grade, and then refuse to do it at home. Knowing that you’re done for the day when you walk through your door will do wonders for your state of mind and let you rest and recharge.
If you’re feeling that there’s no way to instate a no-work-from-home policy and still stay on top of everything, consider some curricular changes. You can have students direct their own learning, perform more self-assessments, and give each other feedback. Project-based collaborative learning is also a good option. You can also utilize resource libraries such as iCulture from Carnegie Learning’s world language solutions or ELA anthologies such as Mirrors & Windows to save you time collecting and evaluating resources.
7. Seek or Increase Therapy if You Need It
While teaching has always been an intense profession, the number of teachers who reported feeling stressed rose to a whopping 84% during the pandemic. Both stress and anxiety compound pre-existing mental health struggles and lead to new disorders in people who’ve never had mental health challenges before.
Luckily, the stigma around therapy is growing weaker every year, and the more we can talk about mental health struggles, including our own, the more normalized seeking help will become. In the meantime, if therapy seems like a good option for you, consider seeking it or increasing it. Therapy can equip you with an understanding of your triggers and teach coping strategies to use both in and outside the classroom.
When It Comes to Self-Care, We’ve Got Your Back
More than two years into the pandemic, we still have hope that teachers’ jobs will eventually become manageable again. And we also have boundless awe and respect for everything you did before Covid and are doing now.
Please take care of yourself and each other, and for more tips on supporting teachers, download our free guide.
Thank you for doing what you do. We know it hasn’t been easy, but you’re transforming lives.
Looking for professional learning opportunities that respect teacher autonomy and help them make meaningful changes in their classroom? Check out our Professional Learning Academies for K-12 math and literacy educators.
Carnegie Learning is helping students learn why, not just what. Born from more than 30 years of learning science research at Carnegie Mellon University, the company has become a recognized leader in the ed tech space, using artificial intelligence, formative assessment, and adaptive learning to deliver groundbreaking solutions to education’s toughest challenges. With the highest quality offerings for K-12 math, ELA, literacy, world languages, professional learning and more, Carnegie Learning is changing the way we think about education, fostering learning that lasts.Explore more related to this author
Equipping students with SEL skills is of the utmost importance during these stressful and uncertain times, but it’s imperative to focus on the social-emotional wellbeing of teachers too.