Teachers are great at planning for school. We make lesson plans, we have planning periods, and we keep plans on file in case we're absent. We plan to attend faculty meetings, committee meetings, parent meetings, and after-school events. In short, we're very good at planning for school and for others.
But when it comes to planning for ourselves, we often leave it to chance. If we can squeeze in a trip to the gym or a coffee date with a friend or even a haircut, we feel lucky.
So maybe it's finally time to use our excellent planning skills in the new school year to actually schedule time for ourselves instead of just hoping we'll get a free moment now and then.
Further Reading: How to Cope with Teaching Anxiety
Why Self-Care Matters
About 20 percent of teachers feel "tense about their job all or most of the time," compared with about 12 percent across other industries, according to the American Institute of Stress. The consequences impact not only teachers but also their students.
According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, chronic stress among teachers "compromises their health, sleep, quality of life, and teaching performance." In addition, the research shows that teacher stress results in poorer levels of student social adjustment and academic performance, particularly if teachers find it necessary to frequently call in sick, spending less time with their students.
Researchers at the nonprofit The Conversation found that teachers dealing with chronic stress may also experience "irritability, mood swings and exhaustion, which may escalate into depression, anxiety and lower quality of life." Stress is also a factor in teacher burnout and in teacher turnover.
So self-care isn't "selfish"; it's necessary for you to feel well and do your job well. Here are some ways you can carve out essential time for yourself.
Make a Plan
Whether you are single or have a partner or family, take time to plan for the week. Start by writing down any after-school obligations you or others in your household already have, like dentist appointments, sports practice, or taking the dog to the vet.
Next, schedule your personal time to go to the gym, read a book, jog with a friend, work in the garden, or anything else you find relaxing and enjoyable. Encourage other family members to add personal plans to the week, but don't wait until everything else is fully scheduled and there is little or no time left for you.
Third, plan for daily dinner and household chores, whether it's just you or the family. Who will do laundry this week? Who empties the dishwasher? What are the dinner plans for the week? One teacher told me that planning for weekly dinner drastically cut down on her trips to the grocery store on her way home from work. She also said it wasn't until her family wrote down the schedule together that everyone realized most chores disproportionately fell to her. Many were redistributed.
Post the Plan
You can go high tech or low tech, but the plan is only effective if it's available for everyone concerned to regularly consult. Some families maintain a group text chat so everyone knows what's going on. But others find the old-fashioned method of putting the schedule on the refrigerator is more effective because you can easily point to it.
Follow the Plan
It's tempting for teachers to sacrifice their self-care if there's a conflict or time crunch. And there will be times when giving up your gym session may be necessary. But try hard to protect your self-care time so others understand it's valuable. If you act like it's not that important, others will see it the same way.
Perhaps one of the unexpected results of planning for self-care is that it may reveal how much time you are actually spending at school. For example, if your schedule reveals you're staying late at school four nights out of five and still bringing work home, you may want to re-evaluate your school commitments to generate more personal time.
Making Self-Care a Goal
The nonprofit educational website Waterford.org points out that self-care is not just about taking a spa day or getting your nails done. "The definition of self-care is any action that you use to improve your health and well-being," the source notes. "It's about taking care of your health every day so that you're prepared to be the best teacher you can be for yourself and your students."
The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) suggests that to reduce stress, teachers should "trim your list" of school commitments and focus on the top three that really matter. It also encourages teachers to take a break during the day by stepping outside, walking around the building, or stretching in an empty room.
While these activities may release a little pressure during the day, they don't add up to the self-care you need and deserve. So plan for your meditation time, your bike ride, your after-school drink with a friend, your choir practice, your book club. Schedule time for reading or hobbies or taking your toddler to the playground. And don't apologize for it.
Further Reading: 4 Things You Shouldn't Do Right Before the End of Summer Break
A friend of mine sometimes says, "Fail to plan, plan to fail." So make your self-care activities part of your schedule. Write them down. And take care of yourself—not only for the people who depend on you but for your own physical and mental health. You deserve it.