Teaching is a hard job. Even if you aren’t a teacher—heck, even if you don’t have kids—you would probably agree that teaching is tough. Teachers are on their feet most of the day, delivering lessons while blocking out eye rolls, yawns, nose-picking, kids leaning back in their chairs, excessive talking, students playing on “hidden” devices, bodily noises, and more. Why do we do it? It’s certainly not for the money or accolades. Yet, nothing quite compares to the feeling of a good day of teaching when things go right, kids respond, and you feel like you’ve gotten through to your students.
The question remains: How do we teachers stay sane?
Or, perhaps a better question would be, "How do we maintain our patience and stamina week after week, year after year, without wearing down or getting burnt out?" I asked my educator friends, and here are some tips I gathered. Hopefully, these strategies will help you unwind and recharge, too!
- Plan ahead: A third grade teacher said she likes to spend time throughout the week planning ahead so she can leave on Friday and fully enjoy her weekend. Long-term planning and weekly preparation help her feel on top of things, and when she leaves for the weekend, she knows she is ready to go for the following week. This reduces her stress.
- Exercise: Many of my teacher friends, myself included, turn to exercise to recharge. It doesn’t matter what you do—whether you run, walk, do yoga, play in a bowling league, play frisbee, golf, or lift weights—physical activity helps relieve the stress of teaching. Even though we are moving all day long, exercise helps us unwind both mentally and physically, and is an important part of decreasing stress.
- Keep your mind active: Let’s be honest: Teachers’ minds are active all day long, focusing on our curriculum, problem solving, and collaborating with peers. But we need to use our minds in other ways when we are not working. My teaching friends do a variety of things to work their minds, such as read, journal, do Suduko or crossword puzzles, or listen to music. Find what you like and make sure to use your mind in a way that is relaxing and stimulating to you.
- Tackle a project: Projects beyond the school walls can be relaxing, distracting, and creative. Remodel a room at home, organize a closet, or create a scrapbook—whatever interests you. Better yet, complete a craft just for fun! Buy an adult coloring book and get to it. Dig into your project just like the students dig in at school, and enjoy the art of creativity.
- Spend time outside: Sometimes we recharge by simply getting some fresh air. Take a walk, go to an arboretum and hike, sit on your porch or patio, talk to your neighbors, or just go out and look at the stars. Nature is a calming force that can help you destress and unwind.
- Have fun with your co-workers: The school where I teach excels at team-building and having fun. On in-service days, our principal creates fun activities to get us up and moving around—and usually laughing. We schedule regular outings where we do something as a staff outside of school hours to enjoy each other’s company. And at school, we team up with each other to do silly things to motivate kids. We laugh, we dance, we play, and this refreshes us and makes our job more fun. Plus, the kids enjoy seeing us have fun, too!
If you are at school and in need of a tension breaker, try these ideas:
- Be silly: Class not going so well? Kids getting on each other’s nerves? Your lesson is tanking? Why not try to find your sense of humor? Tell a joke, do a brain break, dance, or share a funny story. Do anything you can to lighten the moment—the students will appreciate it, and you will feel better as well.
- Breathe: Take a deep breath, then slowly exhale. Do this a few times until you feel calmer. Breathe before you respond or overreact to a student or situation, or if you feel anxious and tense. Do this with kids or during a break to regain your composure and refocus. You can also teach students to breathe in order to help themselves calm down. It’s an easy and immediate calming activity.
- Change your scenery: If you are having a tough day, go get your heart pumping and leave your classroom for a minute or two. Find an excuse to walk a lap around the school, go talk to the secretary, or walk to the library. Simply use a few minutes of your free time to move around—sometimes just getting out of your element for a while can help to calm and renew you.
The message here is simple: Make time in your day to do the things you enjoy. Teaching is much more than a typical full-time job, and it could consume your life if you let it. So instead of letting yourself feel overwhelmed by the pressure of this profession, remember to factor in some “me” time. If you care for yourself and fill yourself up, you will be a happier, healthier, and more relaxed teacher in the long run.
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