What’s the Real Deal on Genuine Self-Care for Educators?
AACTE member alumnae working in the field, share tips on self-care for educators.
When it comes to self-care, we wonder if teachers and administrators even know what they need. Giving themselves permission to let go and be free to relax, enjoy the great outdoors, and literally do nothing is paramount. However, sometimes feelings of guilt override self-care, as educators think they “need” to get schoolwork done, grade papers, complete lesson plans, or prepare creative and engaging activities.
As adjunct instructors, we fully embrace that teacher burnout is a reality as we have spent countless hours with preservice teachers in the university setting. Educating teachers on how to motivate students to learn is imperative; however, ascertaining that first-year teachers are able to care for themselves is vital. There is an old saying, “You can’t fill from an empty vessel.” This is so true with teachers as they, too, must care for themselves so they can fill and motivate their students. To retain and encourage new teachers is one of the most important tasks of administrators in their roles as effective school leaders.
The Why of Self-Care
In an article by Tremaine Riley (n.d.), it was concluded that frequent self-care can reduce less stress, with benefits in areas of physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. Additionally, self-care promotes positive results such as increased resilience, living longer, and being able to manage stress in a more positive way.
Self-care can be a great way to prevent or reduce teacher stress since over 40% of teachers report feeling high stress — one of the highest stress rates of any career (Waterford.org, 2021). A Waterford.org article stated that teachers sometimes feel guilty for absorbing themselves in self-care, for fear that it may lead to a distraction from their students (2021). Instead, the article suggested incorporating self-care in small steps each day, not rearranging your entire schedule.
Self-Care is Whatever We Want it to Be
Organized weekend getaways, massages, trips to the salon or shopping mall, and hanging out with friends may be self-care for some folks. However, spending money unnecessarily to “fix” your inner peace may create additional stress to your finances. Instead, we emphasize the importance of determining your own form of self-care.
The box of chocolate-glazed donuts with sprinkles might not help you feel less stressed either. Too many of those will have you indulging in another method of self-care by necessity. While some educators find naps and extra rest as a way to unwind, others feel best when participating in exercise, whether a brisk walk with a friend, a run, or a trip to the gym. An extra dose of physical activity will actually boost your mood and energy with feel-good endorphins that are released following exercise. The hardest part will be lacing up your sneakers and just getting started.
Self-care also should not have a monetary value attached to it. It can take the form of moments of laughter, quiet, or reflection that won’t cost a dime: enjoy the novel that you haven’t had time to read; participate in your preferred way to meditate, pray, or worship; or simply think about what makes you content and joyful.
Unfortunately, teacher burnout is real. The pandemic stretched both seasoned and preservice teachers to the max. In our own district, we continue to experience teachers breaking contracts and leaving during the school year. Self-care is one of the ways to help teachers reduce stress and improve overall health and well-being.
Amy Painter, Ed.D., a Rockingham County Public Schools’ Director of Federal Programs, has 22 years of experience in education as an administrator and teacher. She is an alumna of James Madison University, Walden University and Mary Baldwin University.
Tammy T. May, Ed.D., principal of Lacey Spring Elementary School in Rockingham County Public Schools, has 28 years of experience in education as an administrator and teacher. She is an alumna of and adjunct instructor at James Madison University and is also an alumna of Liberty University.
Riley, Tremaine (n.d.). You MATTER: Understanding the importance of self-care. Families and Communities Rising, Retrieved January 3, 2022, from https://fcrinc.org/self-care-articles/you-matter-understanding-the-importance-of-self-care/
Why Teacher Self-Care Matters and How to Practice Self-Care in Your School. (2021, May 17). Waterford.org. Retrieved January 3, 2022, from https://www.waterford.org/education/teacher-self-care-activities/