How to Balance Teaching and Your Health

One of the most difficult aspects of teaching is acknowledging that all the tasks that need to be completed for you and your students can not possibly be done in one day. From personal experience, I would spend countless hours in my preschool programs golden co till late every night (well outside the 8-2 paid hours mind you), trying to put a dent in the never ending paperwork that I had to do for administrative purposes, the overflowing amount of student submissions I had to grade, or trying to exhaust every possible idea into functioning lessons to make my students interested in the difference between dependent and independent clauses. In short, I spent a lot of energy on my students, which ultimately is what we teachers are conditioned to do.

However, what a lot of education methodology courses in college don’t spend time on is that there is no way you can continue to spend all your energy on your students if you have no energy left. Teacher burnout and turnover is continuing to grow rapidly year to year, and in part, it is this consistent burning of our creative candle with a thought that we made need to replenish it. In short, educators in particular need to start considering a “work and home” balance in order to be the best for their students. Here are two tips that really made a difference in my overall happiness and ability to manage the stresses I faced every day in the classroom.

Set Personal Wellness as Part of Your Schedule

There is usually one particular trait that I have found in most educators, and that is, they usually live and die by their schedules. Many have personal planners that revolve around all the arduous tasks that they need to do for their job. But, just as it is important to plan time to complete these tasks, it is also important to schedule some “me” time. Just to put this into perspective: In my first two years as a teacher, I gained about 20 pounds. This could have been for a number of reasons (stress, long hours working, take out instead of cooking, etc.) but it was really that I didn’t make the time to really take care of myself. I stopped working out just to get 20 more homework assignments graded. Ordering take out meant that I had an additional 30 minutes to make more lesson plans. Ultimately, I was just making excuses to not take care of myself.

For those of you thinking that’s easier said than done, answer me this: How many minutes a day do you spend checking your Facebook newsfeed mindlessly scrolling? Let’s say an hour. That’s an hour you could spend on the treadmill or making a home-cooked meal. You have the time; you may just have to make some sacrifices and switches in priorities. You will also have to get used to saying, “It can wait till tomorrow.” If you have an important event like an observation by the Superintendent that could mean your tenure, you should probably do what you got to do to be successful. But if you only got through 15 out of 30 term papers and to finish you must miss that kickboxing class your friend wants you to try with her, it’s a no-brainer. Go to the kickboxing class. No one is going to be devastated if you wait another day.
You need to start scheduling exercising and healthy habits (like laundry and cooking) into your life. Then, and this is the hardest part, you must stick to it. Once you make it a priority in your life and schedule, you’ll find it easier and easier to keep to it (and your sanity).

Sleep Like You Mean It

For all my years of teaching, I would go to bed at 1am and get up at 5am. That’s a pathetic four hours of sleep. No wonder I burned out. I had no energy in the tank and was still trying to hold myself to a 150% standard in my classroom. You hear it all the time: the average amount of sleep you should get each night to be at optimal health and productivity is 7-8 hours each night. Just like you need to schedule healthy habits you need to put that phone down and get to bed.