September comes about and we teachers start to excitedly set up our classrooms, gather the best, most authentic and meaningful resources, and put together fun and challenging lessons. We always start as full vessels. But. What do we do when those vessels run dry?
As teachers, we are trained to give.
We give and give, but we seldom take the time to replenish ourselves.
I have spoken to many of my colleagues from various walks of life and at different stages in their careers. From those conversations, it was clear that teachers feel depleted on a regular basis, but they do not take the necessary steps to refill themselves. A teacher in a Morristown, NJ school district poses a question: “We always talk about that the kids are tired and stressed. What about your tired teachers?”
There isn’t really anyone to blame for this-that is how American educational system is set up. American teachers spend more time working than their international peers:
Albeit U.S. teachers are the most hard working in the world, rarely they have time to sit and think creatively, come up with ideas, or reflect on lessons. Their days are filled with paperwork and meetings. Their professional contributions are oftentimes not valued by society.
Working long hours depletes energy reserves. When teachers are depleted, how can they give to their students? When teachers are not valued, put down, and ridiculed, how can we then turn around and send them to teach our children? What kind of lesson do you think a teacher that is tired, frustrated, and burned out will deliver?
As educators, how could we nurture ourselves so that we have energy to give to our students?
I’m afraid teachers may have to take matters into your own hands. Here are some ways I accumulated over the years to replenish my energy levels.
- Taking a bath: relaxing and detoxifying;
- Yoga: depending on a class, could be relaxing or energizing;
- Sitting in silence for a while;
- Be at peace: pray, knit, sew, or just read in silence;
- A walk in the woods does wonders for one’s focus and takes the edge off;
- Writing or journaling is beneficial and can be rather cathartic. I personally like to journal/write blog posts on Friday nights.
- Noisy environments in schools like lunch duty add to mental clutter. If you supervise lunch this year, bring ear plugs. Your brain will be thankful.
- Set aside an hour each week and treat it as a very important meeting-with yourself. Review and reflect on your weekly, monthly and yearly goals, analyze why some were accomplished and others fell by the wayside. Life gets in a way? Make a note to recognize the obstacles next time. Then, set new goals for the upcoming week, anticipate problems while brainstorming possible solutions to those.
- Schedule that time on your calendar and fiercely protect it-it is YOUR time, don’t let anyone hijack it.
- Advocate for yourself: oftentimes as teachers, and, especially, as women, we are afraid to appear difficult, to ruffle feathers, to disagree, to be an inconvenience [speaking from experience]. However, we need to change that paradigm. Start by speaking your mind, advocating for yourself, getting support from your colleagues, and do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to speak up.
- Toot your own horn. Be proud of what you do in your classroom, and share, share, share! Include the beautiful things you do in your classroom in your emails or that newsletter to parents, community and/or school administration. Do not feel bad for showing off your craft. Showing off what you do with your students will empower you and make you feel valued.
What about you? How do you replenish your mental and physical reserves? How do you restore your energy so that you have more to give to your students? How do you motivate yourself? Please respond in the comments below, and thank you for reading.