I Can't Be the Best Teacher Without Self-Care

Dec 22, 2017 12:00:00 AM


It’s hard to ignore how fast the school year is flying by. I vividly remember the week before school started. There were teachers everywhere rushing to Target to take advantage of the sales on markers, pencils, erasers, notebooks, etc. The excitement was in the air as teachers pinned posters on the walls, wrote names on seating charts and prepared the final materials to welcome students to a new school year. The anticipation for the first day of school was easily felt throughout the entire school building. As I walked through the hallways, teachers checked in with one another about seating arrangements, first-day lesson plans and overall feelings about the year. At this point in the semester, we are beginning final plans to wrap up the first half of the school year!

It's an adjustment

For first-year teachers, like myself, this excitement is coupled with the anxiety and jitters of entering an environment we have never explored. Having to enter a classroom environment for the first time has been the most nerve-wracking experience of my life. The questions raced through my mind as the first day of school approached in August:
  • "Will I connect with my students?"
  • "Will I be an effective teacher?"
  • "Did I make the right life decision?" 
Educators generally say October is the hardest month to teach. For first-year teachers, this can be especially true as we experience the school year cycle. During this month, your body is getting used to working long hours during the day, the grading workload is  getting real and there is a general disillusionment—it can overpower and rescind the excitement that was felt at the beginning of the school year. The weeks get tougher and the advice begins to pour in from all sources around you. “Prioritize self-care” is a phrase that teachers hear often. While to-do lists can seem never-ending, [pullquote position="right"]sleep and time alone really should be a priority for those who serve in the classroom.[/pullquote] There will always be something else to do and we need to make an active choice to give our bodies and brains what we need at the moment. The job offers teachers very little time off during the day. You are constantly responding to student needs and presenting material—it can be hard to have a moment to breathe. In order to be present and show up the way our students need us to, we must first take care of ourselves. It’s important to set time aside during the week to spend solely on taking care of ourselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean a lavish massage or expensive spa day, it can be as simple as going out for a hike or allowing ourselves to sleep in. A seemingly small choice can go a long way for the needs our bodies have while being in such a stressful profession. The most important factor, however, is making the decision to do something to invest in our mental and physical well-being. Throughout my time in the classroom, especially on the hardest days, I remind myself of the reason I chose to enter the classroom. I am fortunate enough to teach English to 150 amazing sophomore students at my alma mater high school, Leadership Public Schools Richmond. It is the deep love for my community and respect for the people within it that motivate and inspire me to push through as the going gets rough. I know that in order to be my best self for my students, I need to prioritize my mental health throughout the year. I lead with gratitude and remind myself every single day to focus on the positives of the day and embrace my students for their whole selves. This is the only way to lead with my heart and remain my authentic self in the classroom.
An original version of this post appeared on La Comadre as When the Going Gets Tough: Exercising Self Care Is a Must.

Daniela Felix

Daniela Felix is a first-generation college graduate who is now pursuing her passion of teaching through Teach For America in her home district, West Contra Costa Unified. After becoming a mother at a young age, Daniela’s passion for education justice only intensified and she began to fight for an equitable education for all children, regardless of background or zip code. Daniela is a firm believer that every single child is capable of meeting high expectations if given the correct support. Daniela hopes to be a provider of that support. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband and her 4-year-old daughter.

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