I always said I was never going to be a teacher and I always said I was never going to move to London. Both of these things happened to me in August 2008.
Teaching is an incredible profession- no two days are the same and it can be very rewarding. However, most of my non-teaching friends wouldn’t believe me if I told them I have days when I don’t sit down and hold off going to the bathroom for two hours; when the most stressful part of my day isn’t dealing with students, but getting the photocopier to work and trying to drink a full cup of tea becomes virtually impossible.
When people ask what I do and I tell them I’m a teacher, the conversation usually ends there. We all went to school, so we presume we know what it’s like for teachers. But in a profession where you deal with so many people in one day, get your ‘daily word quota’ out before 11am and put other people first, your wellbeing and maintaining good health often come as an afterthought. I know from experience that if you can’t look after yourself, looking after others gradually becomes increasingly more daunting.
With that in mind, here are my top 5 health tips for teachers:
1) Think about the long run
As anybody who is a teacher knows, teaching is a marathon, not a sprint. I would often sacrifice my health in the early days of my teaching career, just so I could perfect that lesson plan or just produce one more worksheet that might make all the difference.
In the first few years of teaching, I was very hard on myself. I would take Saturday off, but spend most of the day worrying about my lessons and how much work I had to do the following week. I would then spend most of Sunday planning my lessons and getting on tops of things. It really wasn’t a great way to live, and as a result, I was constantly stressed and my immune system was shot to pieces.
My former High School Music teacher gave me some one-of-a-kind advice when I was in the middle of my teacher training. He said, “Teaching is the kind of job you can work on 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and you will always be able to justify what you’re doing”.
This advice has really stuck with me, and has always been at the back at my mind when I know I really need a break, but I just want to ‘get stuff done’.
Pull back and give yourself a break. Don’t take everything on as your own.
2) It doesn’t all have to be done right now
This is one of my perfectionist habits that can often trip me up and make me ignore my body’s need to rest and relax. Even when I come home from work, I usually make sure I try and get as much done in the house as I can before putting my feet up. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with resting and then doing what you have to do.
Working to the point of exhaustion can be tempting in teaching, especially when you have lesson preparation, reports, after-school clubs and marking to do on top of teaching. But burning yourself out not only makes you feel depleted that evening, it can carry on into the next few days as well.
It will all get done eventually.
3) Make sure you eat!
I’m embarrassed to say that I was so busy trying to do my photocopying, bending the hands of time and seeing students at lunchtimes that I sometimes didn’t have time to eat. Half a cup of coffee would get me through, but my blood sugar didn’t take kindly to this after a while. (More on this here).
Make sure you prioritise taking real time out at lunchtime, and only focus on unwinding and enjoying your food, even just for 10 minutes. Failing that, at least keep some wholesome snacks in your desk drawer just in case. You’ll find you have more energy to teach and you’re not reaching for the biscuit tin at the end of the day.
4) You might not be skipping into the classroom every day
Like any profession, there might be some days when you really have to gear yourself up to teach and set foot inside that classroom one more time. I remember feeling incredibly guilty for feeling like I couldn’t be bothered some days, but there will be off days or days when you feel like you’re ‘survival teaching’. It’s all part and parcel of an often draining profession, so don’t think negatively of yourself if you’re not feeling inspired and energetic all the time.
5) Think of the positives
Good holidays, talking about a topic you’re passionate about, a rewarding and creative job, gaining good people skills and being able to adapt at a moment’s notice are just some of the benefits of teaching.
Even though there are some days when you’ll wonder how you got into the profession, remember why you wanted to be of service in the first place.
Let me know below, how do you take care of yourself so you can look after others?
Love, Katie xxx