Teaching is a wonderful, exhilarating, and exhausting profession – the rewards are many, but the personal pitfalls are there, too, just like in any profession. Your administration cares for you, worries about you, and wants you to do well. They will do their best, as will your colleagues, to help you through your first year of teaching and beyond. Nevertheless, none of them will be able to take care of you as well as you are able to!
You may not have the power to control your work environment, pick your students or influence the administrators in your school, but within your power are are the resources required to deal with difficult situations. In honour of World Mental Health Day this year, here are our quick tips that you can implement today to ensure you are taking care of your wellbeing first.
This is more difficult than you think, but if you are honest with yourself you will see your strengths and challenges in a new light. Are you a naturally early riser, and find that after 8:00 PM you simply are not as effective? Use that to your advantage and maximise your useful time. Do you have a habit of skipping breakfast? You know that’s not healthy for you; your brain and body need fuel to start the day – and now you have 24 thirteen-year olds waiting for you at 8:30 AM! Are you great at coming up with the big, great ideas, but stress yourself out thinking about the details? Team up with someone who is good at the small details.
There will be many demands on your time, which in turn will have an impact on your ability to do the main part of your job: teaching students. You naturally will want to contribute to your school as much as possible, especially as a new teacher, but there is only so much time in the day and so much energy that you have. By all means coach a sport (for example), but coaching four sports is taking way too much on. You may have already chosen a professional development path for the year, so when a teacher colleague asks you to join another one as well – once again, you can only do so much. Saying “no, thanks” does not mean that you don’t like the idea, or don’t support the person... it is a sign of professional maturity.
Teaching has an interesting mix of mandated time requirements (such as the start and end times of the school day) along with more free flowing time requirements for you to carry out your professional duties when you see fit (such as ordering your supplies for next year – as long as it is done by day “X” you can fill out your request forms any time you want to). Therein lies the danger for your personal well-being: there will always be one more thing you can do... or one more phone call you can make... or one more set of photocopies that need to be printed... or... you get the idea. The key here is to develop your sense of what needs to be done now (i.e. it is urgent, and important, like your report card comments are due tomorrow) and what can be done later (i.e. it is important, but not urgent today, such as the aforementioned supplies list). Again, with experience this will begin to become easier for you to decipher.
You are a professional with many duties and responsibilities, but you are a person too! Are you a daily 5K runner? Do you have a group of friends from school with whom you get together once a month? Are you a member of a book club? Have you always wanted to learn to ballroom dance? As mentioned above, teaching is exhilarating and rewarding, but exhausting too. Make sure you build time into your schedule to replenish yourself!
When your day is packed to the brim and your to-do list is never ending, it’s easy to put yourself last on your list of priorities. But self-care is not selfish, it is quite the opposite. How can you give your time, energy and care to your students when you feel depleted? Learn to let go of any guilt when you are taking time out for yourself, and come back refreshed and ready to tackle whatever the day throws at you. Better yet, encourage colleagues to do the same. Set the standard of a supportive and understanding staff culture, and your colleagues can thank you later.
Above all else, remember that you are not alone. There is a whole community of peers ready to help you and from whom you can seek advice. Together, you can encourage each other, and learn how to eliminate the stress and fatigue that can sometimes make you feel unhappy and ineffective. Remember the reasons why you became a teacher in the first place, and work towards the rewarding, energising career that teaching can be.