“Sound the Alarm—I Need Help”: Teacher Self-Care Tips

By Natychia Redmond, Chervontá “Taye” Pugh, and Christel Young

Being an educator is a calling, and with that calling come many demands that seem never-ending. Lesson plans, websites or blogs, lunch and carpool duty, after-school clubs, faculty meetings, department meetings, parent conferences, and emails—the list goes on and on! Not to mention you still have to take care of your own needs: What’s for dinner? When will I have time to complete this home project?

At some point, it feels like there’s too much going on! You’re stressed out and you know you’re not operating at full capacity (Schussler et al., 2016). So what are you supposed to do?

Educators are pros at pushing through! But the time to take care of yourself is not when you’re broken down and stressed out. You have to make self-care a deliberate part of your daily routine. Work it into your schedule from the very beginning of the year. When we think about taking care of ourselves, we battle with feeling selfish. True self-care is a selfless commitment you make to yourself—an investment in the health of your future and the futures of those you care about (Jeffries, 2017)! Take care of yourself at all costs or it may cost you your all.

Sometimes the hardest part about actually engaging in self-care is that it seems purposeless or overindulgent. You can’t get it out of your mind that you could be doing something more…productive. Remind yourself that rest is indeed the purpose. To help combat the feeling that you’re wasting time, try adding your self-care as an appointment on your calendar.

If you’re not accustomed to staying hydrated and getting quality sleep, start there! You can also try different activities to find what you enjoy. Then commit to incorporating those activities faithfully. Some suggestions include:

  • Entertainment: Music (Spotify and Pandora are cost-effective platforms), reading, movies (Netflix or a movie club), karaoke, learning to play an instrument, going on an outing (zoo, museum, garden or orchard)
  • Exercise: Running, walking, lifting weights, dancing, yoga, boxing, swimming
  • Arts: Painting, drawing, coloring books, crocheting, baking
  • Therapeutic Arts: Meditation, journaling, nature walks, therapy/counseling (your health insurance might cover personal counseling sessions), religious studies or services
  • Personal Care: Massages, pedicures, facials, relaxing baths
  • Unplug from Social Media and News: Preserve your space of peace and positivity!

When starting your path to regular self-care, you may have to ease into it, and that’s okay! Be sure to partner with trusted teachers and form an accountability circle. Working with a partner or a group, you can all help one another on your journeys!

Ms. Christel Young is a doctoral candidate at the American College of Education. Her dissertation research topic focuses on the influence of housing insecurity on digital participation in higher education. She is currently serving as the Technology teacher at Tapp Middle School in Cobb County.

Mrs. Natychia Redmond is a high school math teacher at Lake Norman Charter High School in North Carolina. Her passion is to teach students the skills and knowledge they will need to be empowered to academically and socially transition into their next phase of life.

Ms. Chervontá “Taye” Pugh is a middle school math teacher for Cobb County Schools. She has a passion for integrating technology in the classroom for teacher efficiency and increased student engagement. She is proud to be a part of the Tiger Nation at Tapp Middle School.

References

Jeffries, D. (2017). Self-care: An ethical imperative for EAL teachers. TEAL News, 12.

Schussler, D. L., Jennings, P. A., Sharp, J. E., & Frank, J. L. (2016). Improving teacher awareness and well-being through CARE: A qualitative analysis of the underlying mechanisms. Mindfulness, 7(1), 130-142. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-015-0422-7

“You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup”: 6 Things New Teachers Can Do to Promote Their Own Wellness

Dr. Sarah J. Kaka is an Assistant Professor of Education at Ohio Wesleyan University, and is the Director of the Adolescent to Young Adult and Multi-Age Licensure Programs. She teaches intro to education, secondary and middle school methods, social studies methods, and supervises students in the field.

Dr. Jennifer A. Tygret is an online course developer and instructor for the Department of Education at Illinois College. Her research focuses on the preparation of new teachers, trauma-informed teaching, and best practices in elementary and higher education. She creates and teaches elementary reading courses.

You’ve heard the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup” —that if you don’t take care of yourself, you will be unable to take care of others. This is especially true in education, as teaching is a socially and emotionally demanding profession. In order to be at your best to effectively meet the needs of your students, you need to take care of your own social and emotional needs.

Dealing with all of the stress involved in the day-to-day expectations and demands of teaching takes its toll on teachers. For new teachers, especially, it is important that you not only understand the need to care for yourself, but also have tools and strategies to “fill your cup.”

  • Seek out a mentor. Find an experienced teacher at your school, such as a teammate or another teacher you connect with, and ask questions, share your concerns, get advice. Your mentor can help you navigate the demands and challenges of the classroom, and provide the support you need so you know you are not alone.
  • Create a new teacher support group. Who are the other new teachers in your school building, district, or surrounding area? Commit to meeting regularly over coffee (or over Zoom) to support each other, offer advice, and share ideas for what is working well in your classroom.
  • Ask to observe experienced teachers in action. The more you observe, the more you learn. Watching experienced teachers teach provides you with more ideas for instruction, teaching strategies, and classroom management.
  • Use your Professional days to attend Professional Development in your areas of interest or need. If you need more help with classroom management, seek out PD that will provide you with tangible strategies for improving your classroom management. Look beyond district workshops to other trainings in your area, online, or at local universities. Ongoing training and support can help you feel more equipped and prepared for the challenges you face during your first years of teaching.
  • Join social events at your school to develop relationships and connect with other teachers and staff members. Is there a teacher book club you can join? An after-school exercise program to become involved in? Other social events created by teachers you can attend? Not only do these build connections, they also boost morale.
  • Take your personal and/or sick days! Even though missing a day of school can feel like more work due to all of the planning involved, it is imperative that you have time away from school to promote your own well-being. Having a “mental-health day” away from school can help you be more focused and ready when you return to the classroom.

As a new teacher, you will be better prepared to help students if you take advantage of self-care opportunities and fill your own cup. You will also be less likely to burn out. Ultimately, your students will benefit the most, because a supported, thriving teacher is a more effective teacher!

5 Ways to Prevent Early Burnout Amid a Pandemic

Tyre’ Jenkins is a middle school teacher at Southern University Laboratory School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is also a doctoral candidate at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. With six years of teaching, he has great experience working with students in urban, rural, and private settings in elementary and secondary levels.

Learning my new school, getting acquainted with the atmosphere and staff culture, making copies for beginning of the year activities, creating seating charts, and ensuring that the class was creatively decorated was my first-year teacher stressors. As you know, or will find out, it will feel as if there is a never-ending checklist to complete during the first few weeks of school. After six years in this field, I have finally mastered the beginning-of-the-year routines.

Amid a global pandemic, it is safe to say that this school year has looked drastically different than previous years.  COVID-19 is a novel virus that has changed the lives of many people across the world. Within a few months, learning modes shifted from brick-and-mortar to virtual learning platforms. Being able to adapt from in-class instruction to an online platform may be stressful and unfamiliar. Teachers may struggle with developing online engagement strategies, accommodating struggling students, fostering a personal rapport virtually, and dealing with the lack of interaction with a supportive team.

Be mindful that burnout and traumatic stress during this pandemic has implications for teachers’ capacities to teach and provide the necessary emotional capital for students. Teaching, like any caring profession, is highly susceptible to physical fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and cognition weariness (Maslach & Leiter, 2016). Although it is essential that you strategically plan and prepare yourself for the year, understand that your social, emotional, and mental health is vital for you to be effective and efficient.

Therefore, while preparing for this upcoming school year, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Be flexible. This pandemic is unchartered territory. No one has all the answers. It is completely OK for you not to know everything or have it all together. You cannot do it all; just do what you can.
  2. Learn from your mistakes. Amid a global pandemic and being in the infancy of your career, mistakes are inevitable. However, always be open to learn from them. Ask for help when you need it.
  3. Self-care is essential. You can’t be of service to anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself. Be mindful that you need to find ways to demonstrate resilience for your students and team, but most of all, for yourself.
  4. Let your students know you care. Many of them are facing trauma, grief, and may be just as confused as you are. Building those personal relationships is still the most important thing that you do.
  5. Find a teacher buddy. Every teacher needs a friend to process things with, gain clarity from, and receive direction along the way. You will find comfort in knowing that you have a team member.

It is important that you take care of yourself. Your students will need the best of you. Teacher resilience is a necessary and key component of success for this upcoming school year. Your mental, social, and emotional state matters. Do not overwhelm yourself with the things that you cannot change, but be the best, most effective and efficient at the things that you can change.

References:

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World Psychiatry: Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 15(2), 103–111. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20311

Teaching Literacy From The CORE

Ms. Beckee walked into her very first classroom eager to teach her students to love reading and writing.

She strongly believed literacy is transformational for student success.

Ms. Beckee knew she had a big job ahead of her, though. The school where she worked had had low test scores in reading for the past several years, most of her students were labeled as “at-risk,” and she would have a limited classroom library. What Ms. Beckee wasn’t expecting, however, was the difficulty she would face in reaching students who came from backgrounds unlike her own. She began to ask herself, “How do I reclaim and sustain transformational literacy practices so that my students are successful, lifelong lovers of reading and writing?”

Situations like the one Ms. Beckee faced are quite common.

With the increasingly diverse makeup of students, pressures of standardized testing, and lack of funding, teachers often feel overwhelmed with the task of transforming their students into strong readers and writers.

Although this task does take time, mystery doesn’t have to surround it, and fear doesn’t have to drive it. Being a strong literacy teacher requires a lot of skill and a lot of heart (Freire, 2000). But it’s easy to lose heart when testing, pressure, and fear take over.

What I offer here is an invitation to examine your core and ground your knowledge and skills of teaching literacy in your heart.

The Framework

What I refer to as the CORE of your pedagogy are the four concepts to consider when reclaiming and sustaining transformational literacy practices. They are as follows:

C – Cultivate sociological mindfulness.

O – Operate from a critical social justice mindset.

R – Reframe learning as equity and excellence.

E – Exercise self-care.

These concepts are not linear, but looping in nature. This means that you don’t need to perfect one before you can move on to the next. Think of each concept as interrelated, both independent of and dependent on one another.

Cultivate sociological mindfulness.

Being sociologically mindful calls for awareness of the present, how the present has been affected by the past, and how the decisions you make now could affect the future (Schwalbe, 2017). This means paying attention and posing critical questions: What do you know; what do you think you know; and what don’t you know about your students? Ask yourself:

  • What are the experiences this student brings into the classroom every day?
  • How does my understanding of these experiences affect how I teach?
  • Why do the experiences of others matter?

Operate from a critical social justice mindset.

A critical social justice mindset for literacy “is an evolving process where teachers and students always consider cultural relevancy, employ critical literacy, and work for social justice as they relate to the word and the world” (Stachowiak, 2016). Ask yourself:

  • Whose voice is included in this read-aloud? In this decision making? In this literacy lesson?
  • Do the books I have in my classroom library reflect the diversity of the world, without harmful stereotypes and biases?
  • How can the lessons I teach continue to affect my students when they leave my classroom?

Reframe learning as equity and excellence.

Equity is about giving people what they need to be successful. When we reframe our literacy practices with this in mind, we shift to a true focus on individual student excellence. Excellence is about creating transformational spaces for learners to recognize humanity, engage in critical dialogue with their peers, and reflect. Ask yourself:

  • What does this student need to be successful? Who could I ask for support?
  • Does every student have access to information that would benefit them the most?
  • Are the resources I give my students equitable?

Exercise self-care.

As teachers, it is in our nature to take care of others and, in doing so, it’s easy for us to forget about taking care of ourselves. But self-care is an incredibly important and necessary part of being a great teacher. Make sure to put a self-care activity on your calendar weekly—and commit to it. Some examples of self-care include:

  • going to your favorite kickboxing class at the gym (kick that stress out!);
  • engaging in a sitting, walking, or eating meditation; and
  • practicing self-compassion: Forgive yourself, take sick leave when you’re sick, set boundaries.

Putting CORE Into Action

Teaching literacy from the CORE begins with making a commitment to critically reflect on the abovementioned questions. This self and classroom inventory will pave the way to transformational and sustainable literacy practices!

Dr. StachowiakDr. Stachowiak is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and a literacy consultant with The Educator Collaborative. Her interests are in literacy curriculum, equity literacy, and gender issues in education.

Recommended Websites

Recommended Readings

  • Culturally Affirming Literacy Practices for Urban Elementary Students, edited by Lakia M. Scott & Barbara Purdum-Cassidy
  • Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word, by Linda Christensen

References

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

Schwalbe, M. (2017). The sociologically examined life: Pieces of the conversation (5th ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Stachowiak, D. M. (2016). A framework for critical social justice literacy in urban elementary schools. In L. M. Scott & B. Purdum-Cassidy (Eds.), Culturally affirming literacy practices for urban elementary students (pp. 13–26). Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield.

Workplace Bullying in Schools: Teachers Speak Out

Today’s blogger is Amy Orange, an Assistant Professor at University of Houston–Clear Lake, whose recently published article Workplace Bullying in Schools: Teachers’ Perceptions of Why They Were Mistreatedappears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum. In that article, she shares her research on teachers who have suffered mistreatment.

As educators, we are familiar with student bullying in schools and various ways to address the problem.

What isn’t publicly discussed as much is workplace bullying in schools. Yet workplace bullying in educational settings is more prevalent than in other environments (Fahie & Devine, 2014), with the exception of nursing (Berry, Gillespie, Fisher, & Gormley, 2016).

When I looked at the reasons why teachers felt bullied by their administrators, few patterns emerged that showed a single clear factor that led to teachers being targeted. Some felt it was because of their age and others felt that their own behaviors, such as being outspoken or questioning their principals, may have led to the mistreatment.

Others felt that their administrators were jealous of them, either personally or professionally. Some teachers perceived that it was simply about power and that their administrators needed to exert power over them for unknown reasons. Ultimately, most of them will never know why an administrator targeted them, but the perceptions they shared with me are their realities (see my piece in this issue of The Educational Forum).

Interestingly, when discussing my research with colleagues or at conferences, I’ve had some ask whether the teachers who felt bullied were “bad” teachers, as if that somehow excuses the administrators’ behaviors.

Others have asked how I know whether the teachers I spoke with were really bullied without talking to administrators too, as if the teachers’ perceptions of what happened to them were not valid without the administrators’ discussing their perspectives. If people feel bullied, it is real to them and they will react accordingly; it has consequences for their performance at work, their desire to stay in the profession, and their mental health.

Even if it is a misunderstanding or misperception, it should be dealt with so that both the teacher and administrator reach an agreement about how to positively work together and treat each other with professional courtesy.

Prior research found a connection between low autonomy and the likelihood of being bullied in the workplace (Baillien, De Cuyper, & De Witte, 2011; Bowling & Beere, 2006). Therefore, one potential approach to managing this crisis is to increase the amount of autonomy teachers have in the workplace; hopefully this could contribute to decreases in workplace bullying in schools. Another approach may be to change the culture of the workplace. Changing workplace cultures that condone bullying, rather than refusing to deal with the problem, is not easy; but everyone deserves to work in an environment that is not harmful.

There are no simple solutions to this problem. One of the major issues with addressing workplace bullying is that we can’t create policies to make people treat others decently—kindness can’t be legislated. But we need to hold adults in schools to the same standards we do students and create the expectation of treating people with respect.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the current issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through October 31, 2018.