Updated: Aug 6, 2019
“Not all superheroes wear capes, some are teachers.” I’ve been seeing this catchy bit of inspiration all over social media the past couple of days as we head into Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s a great sentiment: teachers are on par with superheroes. Really heartwarming, really well-intentioned, and really affirming. The problem is, as a teacher myself, I’ve seen the inside of the phone booth, and it’s not as comfortable or as easy to get around in as Clark Kent led us to believe. As teachers, we have the power to change lives, to change the world, and this power, as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben counseled, comes with great responsibility. This responsibility is often palpable for teachers, and is the fuel behind the “teacher-in-September-vs-teacher-in-June” memes that are so popular.
Teachers take on a lot. We are carrying a lot of weight: mental, emotional, and even physical—the infamous “teacher bag” stuffed to the seams—and, the weight of social expectations put on teachers to have “Pinterest perfect” classrooms, hashtag-worthy moments #inspiredbymystudents, and certainly to do justice to the volatile political landscape by engaging in relevant and important movements like #metoo and #blacklivesmatter—all while trying to actually teach our students they matter #morethanatest. Phew! With all of that power/responsibility, it most definitely takes from June to August to loosen our shoulders again, to recharge our mental batteries so that we can feel sharp, relevant, and engaging in the classroom, and to press reset on our empathy button so that we can carry that emotional anvil to and from school every day again. But, teachers, we do NOT have to wait until summer break to rejuvenate! Take heart, as I tell you my top five ways, what I call, “Five N’s” to practice teacher-self-care every day (YUP!) of the week:
My new-found solution for rest comes from Daniel Pink, author of When, and is lovingly referred to as the “Nappucino.” Pink claims that because scientific studies suggest 20-25 minutes of sleep is a sweet-spot that can rejuvenate and recover lost sleep hours, the best way to take a nap is to schedule it for 30 minutes on your calendar—try to schedule a nap every day! At the scheduled time, quickly drink a full cup of coffee (iced or at least room temperature), then fall asleep (with headphones, a meditation soundtrack, whatever it takes to let you drift off as quickly as possible—this usually takes most of us around 10 minutes). The caffeine in the coffee will kick in after 20 minutes, waking you from your nap at the ideal time.
Teachers face nutritional challenges that come with the territory of being unbelievably busy people. How many times have you “forgotten” to eat during a busy day of lesson planning, teaching, grading, tutoring, meetings, coaching, etc. etc. etc.? To avoid the typical reaction to the end-of-the-day teacher munchies—binging on chips, candy, or whatever other terrible food can fit in your car’s cup holder—plan ahead. Pack a cooler bag with healthy snacks for your way home. If you fuel your late afternoon with vegetable sticks, a protein-packed Greek yogurt, or a handful of almonds and water that has had time for frozen cucumber slices or frozen berries to thaw and infuse throughout the day, you will arrive home (or to the gym) feeling refreshed instead of even more tired—like a superhero should!
The idea here is to find some time to “mindlessly” relax. So maybe not Netflix, per se, but if TV is the thing, then go for it! It is important to begin a shut-down routine at the end of the day that is all your own (putting the kids to bed and telling story after story until you want to pass out yourself does not count!). Something that signals to your brain that your body is ready to relax. This signal can be a physical cue, like Yoga or light stretching, but really should be a quick and easy (30 minutes maximum) relaxation exercise for the brain. Completing one page in an inspirational adult coloring book, working on a difficult jigsaw puzzle, even surfing through Pinterest are all great ways to take a mental break at the end of your day. I bet Thor plays a mean game of Candy Crush!
While superheroes are certainly very busy, they all make time for family of some kind. When we are asking students to trust that we have created for them a safe, caring environment for learning, when we ask them to be their most vulnerable selves in our classrooms, we need to be sure that we are modeling how to do this for them—or, at least practicing what we preach—in our own lives. Whether you have a #teachertribe of like-minded colleagues (a, “Justice League,” if you will?) or close relationships with members of your family, it’s important to nurture these relationships. Take time each day to encourage, motivate, or LOL with someone in your inner circle. Set a calendar reminder or alarm on your phone to remind you to send one text message, email, Facebook message, or other form of a quick note to someone every day. The recipient(s) of your notes will be delighted, but you’ll also feel the mental and emotional benefits of regularly, intentionally thinking of others.
My last suggestion for superhero self-care is to take notes. John Dewey, noted educator and champion of democracy and social justice in education, said: “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” We are practitioners of education—meaning that we are actively practicing our jobs every day. What are we doing with all of the information we’re learning from our “practice sessions”? Reflection does not have to be lengthy, but it should be focused and critical. Use the Notes app on your phone (or whatever you use to capture short bits of information) to record a 1-2 sentence answer to one question each day. Choose a question and stick to it every day for at least 30 days. At the end of the month, you can make longer observations if you wish, but you’ll have at least a snapshot of how you feel about a particular topic or issue over time and from within different contexts. Here are some of my favorite focused questions for notetaking: - What made me laugh today?- What made me feel worthwhile today?- What was the best thing that happened today?- I wish I had more time today to do…- How am I feeling right now?- What was the most important thing I did today?- What did I learn today?
It’s time for the Lasso of Truth (you knew that was coming, right?): teachers are superheroes. And superheroes, by definition, are hyper-focused on and extremely skilled at saving others. Self-care does not come easy for teachers, but in order to be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, we need to make sure we are attending to the five N’s. I hope that you find these useful, and that together we can commit to practicing self-care every day. Need some accountability with an awesome tribe of teachers? Join our social network, Shared Space Teaching, for inspiration and motivation.
Do you have a self-care practice that falls under the category of one of our N’s? Let us know about it in the comments.