We have made it past the early part of the school year, and some of us may even be saying that the “honeymoon stage is over.” We are starting to settle into the routines of the day. We don’t forget to take attendance (most days), we know which faces we should expect to see at which time of the day, and our bladders are starting to adjust to that small break before 3rd hour when we trust the students coming into our class enough to quickly run to the bathroom.
“Teachering” (which isn’t a real word but I like it) is difficult. There is much more that takes place beyond the lessons we provide and plan. We do more than grading, managing, and answering emails. We carefully and intentionally create a space for our students to not only learn but to feel safe, seen, and understood. That no matter how their day is going, what happened last night, what their grade is, or whatever it may be—they know that they belong and are cared for.
We have the honor and the unique opportunity to have an impact on our students. We understand how important this job is. We know how essential it is to keep them safe—not just physically but also mentally. They may be having a difficult time in or out of school but they know we are there for them. We are creating a space where they can feel comfortable enough to lower their walls, relax their shoulders, and have a chance to breathe easy (even if it is just for 55 minutes of their day).
Teaching has challenged me and pushed me in ways I never expected. You and I know it’s so much more than just lessons, homework assignments, and exams. Our job is to teach but teaching only the subject content we have a degree in is far from what our students need or even what we want for them.
I am a listening ear. I am a change-saver for the student who forgets their lunch. I am a compassionate being who lets the student who was up all night with their baby sister while their mom was at work sleep for a bit in the back. Students want and need us to be there. They are waiting in the hall to tell us about last night’s basketball game or to share a silly subject-related meme that reminded them of us.
We are more than teaching titles.
We are more than the teaching certificates.
We are more than the paycheck we receive.
We are more than.
But throughout all of this, some of us are reaching or have reached the point of burnout.
When the job you thought you would have until retirement is hard to get out of bed for. The career you have loved but now feels like it is taking up too much room in your head. The job that is so tiring, using all your energy and having nothing left to give to your family, spouse, or even to yourself. The job that even when you are sick feels like more of a hassle to make sub plans for—if there is a sub available.
My students deserve the best. They deserve me at my best. Your students deserve you at your best. So to support our students, we must first care for ourselves. Oftentimes we are the first in line to care for our students’ mental health struggles, which means we must also acknowledge our own.
This is where the adjustments come in. I have learned to practice boundaries: not answering emails after work hours or grading on the weekend. I have learned that I need to practice self-care regularly, like visiting family, taking a mental health day, walking, or journaling. And here’s the thing, I understand making sub plans, let alone finding a sub can be a stressful situation within itself, but I encourage you to take a day off when you need it. Do not apologize for investing in yourself. When your capacity has been reached, your students will also feel this as well. You can only pour out when you aren’t empty.
I have also grown to know that if I need a break, I am allowed to use my voice and advocate for myself. My teaching day now includes some mindful moments. I do these for myself but I also model them in front of my classes so they can see how I practice grounding techniques in stressful times. My students need to witness that self-care practices range well beyond spa days or shopping sprees. We are examples for our students and we need to make our well-being a priority.
So while the school year carries on and the assignments waiting to be graded pile up on your desk, please know some things can wait. They can take another day to get to. That email you just received as you packed up your things for the evening can wait. There will always be something to grade, a lesson plan to improve upon, and a folder to organize. Your mental and physical well-being, however, shouldn’t have to wait.
If you’re struggling, I want to remind you of all the ways you are making a difference in your students’ lives. The time you waited with your student after school until their parents came to pick them up. The time you bought them lunch when they left theirs on the bus that morning. The time you made your student feel so valuable and seen with your encouraging words.
You are worthy of the same care and hope that you extend to your students.
More Than a Teacher
For all teachers: You deserve to create space and moments where you focus on your own well-being. For self-care activities, options, and ideas, please visit our Self-Care page at https://twloha.com/self-care/.
For high school teachers: If you’d like to start talking about mental health with your students, we invite you to learn more about our Between the Bells program. It’s a one-week interactive curriculum that encourages students to care for and acknowledge their mental health and teaches them about the resources that exist.
I contend that no amount of “self care” will fix the broken system.
You’re right. It won’t. The system needs to be reworked and rebuilt in many ways. The hope is for teachers and students in the midst of that system to still seek out ways to care for themselves the best they can and to have the language and resources to do so.
Thank you so much! It is what I needed to see!