Put on Your Oxygen Mask First: Self-Care in the First Month of School (and the rest of the year, too!)


Are your batteries dead? No, I’m not talking about your laptop that died while you were writing a lesson plan, or your phone that died between refreshes of your work email or classroom app.
Whether you’re already running on empty or anticipating the madness of the first weeks of school, recognizing the importance for self-care in the classroom should be on your radar. Teacher burnout is real and it’s rampant, especially in a day and age where standards are constantly changing, techniques and methods are being renamed, modified, and reinstated, and the bell between first period and seventh seems longer and longer with each passing day.  Self-care may be the buzz word of 2019, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant or important for teachers to consider. #teacherburnout #burnout #selfcare #selfcareforteachers #selfcareinclassroom #teacherpreservation

Many districts went back to school this week, or last. Some may still have a week of summer freedom before the year begins. Whether you’re already running on empty or anticipating the madness of the first weeks of school, recognizing the importance for self-care in the classroom should be on your radar. Teacher burnout is real and it’s rampant, especially in a day and age where standards are constantly changing, techniques and methods are being renamed, modified, and reinstated, and the bell between first period and seventh seems longer and longer with each passing day.

Self-care may be the buzz word of 2019, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant or important for teachers to consider.

SELF-CARE MYTH #1: I can’t afford self-care.

Self-care doesn’t have to mean expensive massages, overpriced mani-pedis, or top-shelf wine in the cute, monogrammed cup you received from a student last Christmas. 

In fact, there are many ways you can bring self-care into your classroom and into your life without breaking the bank. Recharging your batteries doesn’t require a lightening cord or a micro-pin charger, but it does require a commitment to yourself and your wellbeing. How does the adage go? In case of emergency, put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others. If you haven’t taken care of yourself, how can you possibly be available to help your students?

SELF-CARE MYTH #2: I don’t have time for self-care.

Self-care doesn’t require huge blocks of free time, meticulous planning, or a people-free zone (though people-free can be great, too). 

Though that secluded, relaxing cabin-in-the-woods vibe can definitely quell the stresses of everyday life, many of us live lives that demand our presence everyday. We work our full time jobs, take care of our families, clean our houses, binge our favorite TV shows, cook dinner, and sleep. (Wait, when are we supposed to be sleeping?!) We certainly don’t have time to escape reality for an extended weekend of quiet and content. Instead, we can recognize that many less extravagant self-care activities exist that demand much less of our free time.


SELF-CARE MYTH #3: Self-care is silly. I don’t need to take care of me. I do fine without.

Everyone needs self-care, whether they feel the pressure and stress yet or not.

If you’ve never felt the depths of burnout, that’s awesome! Maybe you’re a first year teacher who handles stress well, or maybe you’re even a tenured educator who separates work life from home life better than most. But the reality is that forgoing your oxygen mask will only lead to disaster. You may still be going strong, but what use is a car without an oil change and tire rotation? How does that wine taste, before it’s been fermented and meticulously aged and packaged with care? And the fragile package you send without ‘HANDLE WITH CARE’ scrawled on the side? Does it make it to the destination unscathed?

In reality, teaching is hard work!

Teaching is a demanding job. You are subject to many requirements and often face challenges with administration, students, parents, colleagues, the workload, technology, or changing expectations.

Teaching is a tireless job. You work non-stop throughout the school year, oftentimes well into the night, grading papers and tests, reviewing student work, planning lessons, collaborating with other teachers, participating in continuing education, but at least you get summers off! <eye roll>

And, teaching is often a thankless job. You may feel under-appreciated, overworked, and underpaid.

Being proactive with your self-care may delay that feeling of burnout, and preserve your sanity until retirement (or at least get you to summer break!).

5 Quick & Easy Self-Care Methods for the Classroom

1. Chair Yoga
Practice a few easy, seated yoga poses between bells. Yoga can be especially great for those who have carpal tunnel, wrist problems, or a stiff neck. Stretch out those kinks while tuning out the hallway noise for 60 seconds of peace.

2. Desk Drinks
No, not the alcoholic kind - that’s definitely frowned upon in the classroom! But keep a few of your favorite drinks stashed in your mini fridge or your desk drawer. A perfectly-timed iced frappe, Dr. Pepper 20 oz., or flavored water can really hit the spot.

3. Sneak-able Snacks
Whether salty or sweet, keep your favorite indulgent snack or candy in your desk. Skip the calorie counting and savor the flavor instead. Bonus points if you can sneak bites between bells or munch quietly during a test.

4. Hightail it to Narnia
You may not have a long planning period or student-free break, but even a few minutes of rejuvenation can get you through a stressful day! If you can carve out some space for a bean bag chair or ottoman to prop up your feet, you can take a few minutes at lunch to zone out the stress and get lost in the pages of whatever book tops your TBR. Just read fast so you’re not caught on a cliffhanger when lunch ends!

5. Ease the Environment
Harsh, fluorescent lighting and the drowning noise of paper shuffling and sneakers scuffling are not conducive to a stress-free environment. Turn off the overhead lighting and introduce some softer lights. Consider playing classical music in the background while students work quietly.

Are your batteries dead? No, I’m not talking about your laptop that died while you were writing a lesson plan, or your phone that died between refreshes of your work email or classroom app. You need self-care! #selfcare #classroomselfcare #teacherselfcare #newteachers #experiencedteachers #teacherburnoutisreal #fighttheburnout
Bonus tip! Sometimes the best self-care is a day to yourself. Don’t feel guilty if you need a mental health day. Leave some sub plans and sleep in! 

Happy teaching!


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Michele Luck
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