Educators: 15 ways to prioritize your health this school year
**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**
A column by Manny Lamarre
Dear teachers, administrators, and educators,
Make your health the number one priority this school year and be unapologetic about it. The beginning of the school year is always filled with excitement, joy, and nervousness – whether you are in your first year or a seasoned professional. But distance yourself from the thought of making everyday a Super Bowl. While that thought is noble, it is an unsustainable burden and an unrealistic goal. You can’t be at your best for your students if you are not at your best physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Distance yourself from the pressure of staying late every single night or taking packets of ungraded or administrative papers homes – there will be plenty of days where you have to stay late but you should avoid making it a habit. You have families and friends that love you and want to spend time with you as well. You have students that want to learn from you and see you as a model of teaching and living healthy.
The truth that some of us educators struggle with is this: even if you are the best teacher or administrator in your school or district, the building won’t stop functioning if you are not present. In fact, the campus will most likely be in the same trajectory with your absence. The needle will only be nudged with you fully present and that requires you to be healthy.
When I was in my third year of teaching, I was sick and hospitalized for about a month. I was in and out the hospital. I had lost a lot of weight. I went through a couple medical procedures and was in constant physical pain. One instance was life threatening. Before that, my year was off to a great start. In my head, every day was a Super Bowl and I had to put out my best, but I was chronically fatigued. When I woke up from my initial procedure, one of my first thoughts was whether or not I left enough work for the substitute (you know how kids can get if you don’t have work for them). Luckily, I had a good support of teachers that took the baton from me before my mind drowned in classroom concerns.
I share that with you to say that during my hospitalization, the world didn’t stop moving. When I returned to the classroom, my students didn’t lose the lessons they learned, although a few of the usual actors pretended to have amnesia about line up procedures. The school did not collapse. The floor was a little dirty, the classroom library was out of place, someone found my candy jar, but nothing else changed.
In no particular order, here are 15 strategies to make your health a priority:
- Find an accountability person to keep you from staying late every day or someone that you are ok with having a discussion about your mental state – it’s not for venting but for accountability.
- Make some verbal or written promises with your loved ones. Of course, as an educator, you will break them every once in a while but don’t use your classroom as a scapegoat.
- Take up meditation or yoga. If you can’t, recite a mantra (such as a Bible verse) before leaving your house every day – this will keep you grounded.
- Invest in a quality pillow.
- Take a group fitness class or have a fitness partner you walk or run with several times a week.
- Find a mid-week outlet or activity that doesn’t require planning: dinner or drinks with friends or family can be one.
- Go home with your students on Fridays or whenever the last meeting is for that day (unless you plan to stay late so you can relax Saturday and Sunday).
- Find your happy place or moment every day, even if it’s for a few minutes. For example, I would try to read a poem during lunch or during a class pickup.
- If you feel an unusual pain or swelling, don’t be afraid to call in sick and get checked out. Don’t be stubborn.
- Make a list of reasons why you do the work that you do – and your purpose for living.
- Know when your lesson plans are good enough and then move on.
- Try not to raise your voice when teaching or talking with students – it will raise your blood pressure and heart rate. It’s also in ineffective pattern.
- Make sure your circle of friends includes someone with a sense of humor.
- Work smarter and not harder – at least most of the time. (And don’t fall for guilt trips by people who are not working smart.)
- Reach out and help a struggling teacher (this will add meaning to your career) – BUT don’t make their problem yours (doing so will limit your happiness).
The school year is a marathon. If you try to sprint it like Usain Bolt you will not see the end of the year. But a marathon is also taxing on your body, too. You will have bad days and really bad days but you will also have great and super awesome days – hopefully, the scale tips in favor of great ones. Good luck!
Someone who cares!
Manny Lamarre is an educational consultant and education policy enthusiast, passionate about college and career readiness. He is a former teacher, policy advisor, and associate program officer. He studied Political Science at Wittenberg University and Education Policy and Management at Harvard Graduate School of Education.