Whether you’re starting your first teaching job, or coming back with a little experience under your belt, congratulations! Our profession has infinite potential for positive impact. But with potential comes one common hazard: not creating time for yourself. Take it from me, a 15-year veteran who almost didn’t make it past her first couple of years in the classroom.
Like many of you, when I started out, I dedicated every waking moment to teaching. That took its toll, and I found myself in the emergency room with debilitating migraines and back pain. (If you have these, or other medical concerns, please see a doctor!) Many tests later, my doctors prescribed physical therapy and exercise, which meant I was forced to make time for myself.
You wouldn’t believe my dismay. I felt like a failure. How could I take time for myself when there was so much I needed to do for my school and my students?! But I was out of options. Physically unable to work, I heeded their advice.
With a little self-care, you can avoid burning out before you’ve even started. Here are nine tips for the next nine months of school. Turn to them month-by-month, mix them up, or just choose one. The most important thing is to check in regularly with yourself and your needs.
1. Give yourself permission. Yes, permission. Tell yourself it’s OK to pay attention to YOU. By taking time for yourself, you’ll enter the classroom more motivated, clear-headed, and creative for your students.
2. Commit to yourself. Think of what you would say to a friend. Would you ask them to set aside what keeps them healthy? No, you wouldn’t. Remember to be as committed to what you need as you are to your friends.
3. Set a concrete goal. The power of goals is well-researched. One study found that goal-setting “nearly [erased] the gender and ethnic minority achievement gap for 700 students.” Don’t you want to be that effective with your self-care?!
4. Share your goal. Recently, I decided to start a blog. I wasn’t sure how I would make time for it; I just knew I had to do it. So I shared my goal with someone I trust. Putting it out in the open made me accountable and, you know what, I followed through!
5. Post a calendar. My husband, the surfer, says being in the ocean feeds his soul. But two kids, full-time work, and a busy wife take a lot of time. So he pinned a surf calendar to our dining room wall. As a family, we celebrate as he meets is surf goals. Now, he’s a happier, healthier, more attentive husband for me!
6. Get a timer. One of the best pieces of advice I got when I started blogging was to set a timer and write for twenty minutes. Doing so made me feel like I could spend time on myself without stealing from other responsibilities. The short time frame reduced my reluctance and kicked off my writing habit.
7. Track your progress. This goes along with setting and sharing a goal, and posting a calendar. What I would add is to keep a log of how you feel when taking time for yourself. It could be one word, or many. When you get into a hardcore work zone, look back at this log. It will be a true motivator to get back to prioritizing you.
8. Be open to trying new things. Sometimes I get into a rut. I spend time on myself, become satiated, and stop doing it. Before I know it I’ve forgotten to take time for me, and I’m very grumpy about it. Being willing to try new ways of self-care is a motivator. It keeps us excited about spending time on ourselves.
9. Give yourself permission. Yes, I’m repeating this one. Not because I’ve run out of ideas but because this is where it all starts. As a teacher, every day will require more time and energy than is humanly possible. You must give yourself permission to step away, re-group, and rejuvenate so you can come back fresh and full of joy.
For more tips and stories of life in education, visit my personal blog at schoolteachersuperhero.com.