3 Guaranteed Ways Teachers Can Fit In Self Care

3 Guaranteed Ways Teachers Can Fit In Self Care By A Word On Third

Ages ago, I wrote a post on this blog that got a LOT of attention. It's still one of my most commonly read posts. It is titled "How To Get Rid Of Your Teacher Tired And Start Taking Care Of Yourself."


We are so good at burning ourselves out in this profession, and it's just not acceptable. We deserve to live happy lives too. The students, the data gathering, the grading, the coworkers... they will always be demanding of our time, but we need to demand our own time too.

That post that went viral shared 3 big ideas for taking care of yourself that people struggle with: getting high quality sleep, preparing meals ahead of time, and managing your time effectively.

I recommend you go reread that blog post that I posted above. It's an oldie, but it's a goodie. But if you're ready for more ideas, I'm listing a few out here!

Protect your time.

It can be so easy to fall into the trap of, "oh, but I just want to get this thing done." A well-rested teacher is a more effective teacher. Promise yourself you will leave at a certain time each day. Maybe you will stay late once per week, but you can't on the other days. Make a rule for yourself. And use these strategies to help yourself stick to it:

  • When it's your prep time, shut your door and tape up a "Do Not Disturb" or "Unavailable" sign. to your door. If you're working in a shared space, put in head phones... the bigger the better!  You don't have to play any music--the visible cue of seeing big headphones on your head tells others, "I'm unable to hear you right now." You want to chat with coworkers? That's fine if you're happy with going home later in the day. Give yourself a break and chat with them later or during your lunch period.
  • Set a time limit for things. Have to plan math? Set a timer for 40 minutes and GET IT DONE, no exceptions. Scientists found that when we provide ourselves a lot of time for something, we stretch that task out to fill the time. However, when we are more strict with limiting our time, we can often do the same task in a shorter amount of time. Imagine this... ever wake up late and find out you get to work on time anyway? Or maybe you're late, but you still got ready a lot faster? There's that principle at work! You've worked more efficiently and you've cut out unnecessary tasks because you didn't have time for them. Our prep time is similar... use it wisely. Which leads me to our next point...
  • Make and stick to a prep schedule. Having a To-Do list is so helpful. I've got more information you can read on that here. I'm not exaggerating when I say this has made my work-life balance DRASTICALLY better.
  • Systematize as much as possible. STOP doing the same thing over and over again. What can you copy into your weekly lesson plan template ahead of time to give yourself less work? For example, I teach word study each week and follow the same routine on each day of a cycle. All I do is update my lesson plans to indicate the spelling principles but the typed plan looks identical otherwise. Maybe you are always writing, "Fix and return" on work you grade? Get a stamp that says, "Fix and return." 3 minutes here and there adds up over time, especially when you eliminate 3 minutes 10 times over the course of your day! Carefully looking closely at my routines each week has probably shaved 5-10 hours off of my weekly work week.
  • Batch. That means make all your copies at one time. Plan the entire week of math at one time. Send all of your emails at one designated time (perhaps once a day).
  • Turn off notifications. I actually turn off notifications on my phone and my school email client. I have a designated time for sending emails. If I don't stick to it, I'll spend my whole prep period crafting the perfect response. I like to leave the task of responding to emails last in the day (it motivates me to finish faster since I go home afterwards).

Protect your personal life.

This means you need to make your life outside of teaching a priority. What's important to you? Date night with the partner? A night out with friends every so often? Time to work on that craft you've been meaning to get to? Learning a new language? Exercising?

I literally schedule these things out when I find they're not happening enough. These activities "refill my tank." Sometimes, when I'm not doing a great job of protecting my personal life, I find that I am more reluctant to participate in these activities because they aren't necessary and I have other tasks begging for my attention. Those are usually the times it's extra important to double-down and schedule that personal time. 

Even if all you want to do is to sit in silence for 10 minutes... schedule it!

Protect your heart and mindset.

I don't have to tell you that teaching can be so emotionally draining and difficult. Even if all of your colleagues and administrators are supportive and collaborative, even if you have a class full of only 15 easy to manage students, even if you work with only the most understanding and communicative families of your students, even if you have someone prep all of your papers and make all of your copies for you... there's no way to avoid the challenges of teaching. 

It's really easy to have a bad day teaching if you don't keep yourself in the right frame of mind. Here are a few self-care tips I use to help myself feel good. I hope they help you!

  • Allow yourself to feel negatively for a little bit. Truly feel your feelings for a good 5 minutes. Have a cry or punch a pillow. Then, let it go if it's out of your control or fix it if it's something you can change. I think we have a tendency to complain about things out of our control too often. We have more power than we give ourselves credit for, and we waste precious energy stressing out that doesn't need to be spent. I don't like SGO's either, but they're here to stay. I'll do it and be done with it, you know? When you complain, sometimes you ruminate on things for too long. Let it go if complaining won't change it.
  • Say positive affirmations.  If I'm being honest, I struggled terribly with this for most of my life. When I realized how negatively I talk to myself (in my head), I knew I needed to change my thinking. Sure I'm still insecure about some things, but I'm happier than I was before. That's why I do this in class with my students too.
  • Find a teacher buddy. Someone at your school or on Instagram who you can talk to, celebrate with, bounce ideas off of, and cry to. A good buddy makes a world of difference. If you feel like there's nobody at school for you who fits the bill, look elsewhere. If you make a post looking for a buddy and use popular teacher hash tags on Instagram, I bet you'll get some people responding to you!
  • Avoid gossip at work. I used to feel so uncomfortable or negative after hearing gossip at work. Now I just decided I won't process it or internalize it. I don't participate in it. The less I engage, the less people approach me with it in the first place. If I just respond with an, "Oh." when someone expects an answer from me, or an "I don't want to comment on that," they stop looking to me as a gossip buddy.
  • Meditate. Don't knock it until you tried it! I know there's tons of clinically proven benefits, but it didn't always seem like something I could do or was interested in. I've learned there's no wrong way to meditate, but Headspace has helped me to get started with guided meditations. I still have LOTS of thoughts running through my head, but now I'm more aware of my thoughts. Meditating doesn't clear your mind; it simply allows you to be more aware of your thoughts and feelings, which can impact the way you respond to things at a given moment.
  • Follow the "Do One Thing" rule. Do one nice thing for yourself each day. I don't care what it is or how small it is, but make sure it makes you happy. Here are some ideas: buy those fuzzy socks when you pick stuff up at Target, splurge on a cleaning service once (or regularly!), paint your nails, pack your favorite granola bar in your lunch, set your desktop to a relaxing beach scene on YouTube while your kids read or while you eat your lunch, read for pleasure during your lunch break for 5 minutes, bring your favorite tea to work, buy a houseplant for yourself while grocery shopping, give your partner an extra big and extra long hug, or tell students they have a night of no homework (if you know you'll feel compelled to grade it)... the list goes on. 

So, those are the 3 things I'm focusing on now for myself. I hope that they help you! If you've got tips that you like to use, please comment them below!!

By the way, if you're looking for a no-prep math activity for Valentine's Day that promotes problem-solving and helps students to develop their growth mindset, check out my differentiated logic problem! I love using this with my kids each year. The math talk surrounding problem solving is WONDERFUL! Download it by clicking here or on the picture below.

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