My goal for this blog is to offer help to educators in a variety of ways – from quality educational resources to methods for cultivating a rich creative environment in the art room. Day after day.
In the spirit of the Spring Break season, I thought I would touch on a subject that is near and dear to my heart…Self-Care. This is especially important for us educators, as we require an endless supply of energy to meet the endless needs of our students.
The foundation for success in your classroom begins with you taking care of you.
Here are a few of my thoughts and they are ALL based on science and my own personal experience.
Just the facts as I know them.
Drink some water.
Sounds simple, right?
Teaching is exhausting. The pace is frantic. The environment distracting on all levels. A clear head and stamina to keep up is a must.
Water is the answer. It provides much needed energy and will keep your mind clear.
Dehydration is a real thing. It causes fatigue and headaches. Nothing makes teaching harder than fatigue and a headache. Establishing a quiet classroom will make this more bearable but overall no headache at all is the best scenario.
If you are new to this teaching thing, especially if you are at the elementary level, you will have to time those bathroom breaks perfectly if you’re downing the amount of water necessary to avoid the aforementioned headache. You may be fortunate enough to have a bathroom in your classroom, but if not, you will need to get creative.
I have never taught full time at the elementary level but I have done a lot of elementary level substitute teaching and I was never too shy to ask a teacher neighbor (or any other adult passing by with a pulse) to stand in the doorway so I could make a run for the bathroom. I have a saying, “You don’t get if you don’t ask.” Likewise, I was more than happy to return the favor. Don’t let the “I don’t have time to go” excuse prevent you from getting your daily water intake. Or releasing it. Unless you a fan of the UTI…
This brings us to what can seem to be an unpopular suggestion, but one I have discovered from a little research and a lot of personal experience…limit your alcohol intake during the week. Please do not misunderstand – your girl enjoys a glass of wine just like the next person. But here are the cold hard facts. Alcohol truncates sleep. You may sleep like a rock when you hit the sack, but rest assured (no pun intended), you will be up in the middle of the night at some point. If you are prone to anxiety, as I am, alcohol will make it worse.
These are scientific chemical facts – not just my opinion. Do a little Googling if you don’t believe me. Alcohol also dehydrates the body (see paragraph prior)…do a little experiment for a week and then hit me up in the comments below and let me know if it made any difference. I guarantee it will. We navigate stressful waters in the world of Education…we do not need to be sleep-deprived or dehydrated.
Eat some extra protein during the day.
This will increase your brain function and keep you from getting hungry (or “hangry” as the kids say).
Even if it is a spoonful of peanut butter from your desk drawer while the kids are drawing, do it. I keep some raw spinach in a little container on my desk. Sometimes I chomp on it like a ravenous rabbit while the kids are working. It cracks them up that it’s raw and has no dressing on it, but here is the unexpected benefit…I notice they start bringing salad to school for lunch. And they make it a point to tell me. Good eating habits not only benefit us as teachers, they are a good “witness” to our students on self-care. We are teaching valuable lessons when we don’t even realize it.
Get some exercise.
Before, during or after school.
Walk, run, do yoga, meditate, roller skate, hike, bike, row, swim, whatever works.
Try to get 20 minutes a day to start.
The benefits are endless…better sleep, more energy, clear mind, less stress. Again, not my opinion. Medical facts. Straight talk. I have worked with people who care for their health through exercise and I have been classroom neighbors with people who are physical train wrecks. I’ll take the exercisers ANY day.
And don’t say you don’t have time. I hate the sentence, “If I only had more time…” (I finally got tired of hearing it…) So I started having my kids do a “Time Inventory” on how they spend each hour of every day. They write it all down. Then they re-evaluate the statement, “If I only had more time.” Once they see it on paper they realize just how much time they waste. We adults are no different. I did my own analysis and re-evaluated my own time. It gave me some fresh perspective.
Added bonus to an active lifestyle, when the students hear me talking about working out or walking or doing yoga, they begin to mention how they took time to exercise themselves…there’s that “witness” again…Remember, it’s only 20 minutes…the beginning of a habit that benefits you and everyone you come in contact with.
Don’t work ALL the time.
Work/Life balance is KEY to prevent burnout, freakout and permanent checkout.
When I began teaching I decided I needed to write all of my own curriculum. My daughter says I have the “too much” gene. (She is wise beyond her years). I worked every night until 10 during the week and I went to school every Saturday and Sunday for at least 8 hours and I wrote the curriculum. I made PowerPoints. I made rubrics. I made baseline tests, quizzes, reflections exercises, worksheets, projects – blah blah blah – the list goes on. Side note: All of the fruits of these early years and current curriculum designs can be found in my TPT shop – MrsTFox Resources.
Moral of the story is this. Right about year 5 I hit the wall. Hard. I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t focusing on any of my relationships, and I was exhausted. My husband said to me one day as I sat on the couch feverishly typing the latest resource, “Don’t you have a lesson you can use instead of writing something new? Maybe we could go out to eat…” Translation…I miss you.
Wow. Eye opener.
So I took a break from all the writing. I started exercising (took my own advice before I even knew how to give it) and started eating better. This led to better sleep, better interpersonal relationships all around, and better results in my classroom. I was so tired and disconnected I couldn’t even see the effects it was having all around. It made my days in the classroom more enjoyable, I found myself not looking at the clock or the calendar so often.
Take a minute and reflect on how much time you are spending re-inventing the wheel. If something works, keep doing it. Create a rhythm with which you roll out your lessons. Create a scaffold for your lessons that you can tweak here and there each semester or year. I could have used this advice early on. If you are early in this teaching game, create a good work/life balance now. It will pay off.
It’s not about you.
The kids don’t care about making you miserable as much as you think they do.
All of the stress-ing we as teachers do regarding a student’s poor behavior being directed intentionally at us is – in my experience – us overthinking the motives of a group of people who do not possess the energy for the countless devious schemes meant to take us down.
Let’s think about it. These are teenagers. Getting them to get out of bed can be a real feat these days. Am I so self-absorbed that I think they are scheming to cheat or not turn in the assignment to “get back at me or disrespect me?” Of all the reasons I would have cheated or not completed work in high school, doing it to “get back” at my teacher was not on the list. Running out of time due to lack of proper time management or out of pure laziness? NOW we’re talkin’. But deliberate teacher sabotage? I don’t think so.
So for me to fixate on this is pointless. Even in the off chance that I run into Lex Luthor the high school senior who is out to ruin my life…it’s still pointless. This student is passing through, and at the most will be in my life 18 weeks. It’s a short relationship. And all of this fixation takes energy. And precious time. That I could be spending on more productive outlets (see suggestions above). If my focus is negative then I will end up exhausted and spent. Every person in my circle of influence – my husband, my daughter, my parents and in-laws, my neighbors, the poor soul checking me out at the grocery store and my students – will end up suffering if I let this toxicity take over.
The long and the short of it is this. I don’t waste valuable time and energy devising a way to “catch” students doing the work wrong or not doing the work at all, or figuring out the motives of everyone in my class. I don’t take myself that seriously. These kids are just trying to get by – especially in 2021. My job is to help them succeed. Sometimes (oftentimes) this calls for grace to be part of the equation. A little understanding goes a long way.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have due dates, rules and guidelines, but I present all of these in a way that leaves room for grace. In a previous blog post (my first one ever – scroll down) I talk about approaching students with gratitude for work completed, and especially for work created well.
I decided a long time ago that the kids aren’t out to get me. What they are out to get is information. About Drawing. And Painting. They need a consistent flow of information. From a consistent source. Me. Consistent. Not Jekyll and Hyde Mrs. Fox. Consistent Mrs. Fox. (more on how to achieve this consistency in your classroom).
Once I realized that my time and energy was best spent figuring out how to teach them to draw and paint and cultivating the environment into one of consistent and positive growth, the rest just fell into place. I say to them at the start of the semester, “I have to be here 90 minutes a day too, just like you. Let’s ALL get the most out of this experience. I will commit 100% if you will too.”
We have one Goal. To be Fabulous.
This is a simple goal that everyone can relate to. And it works.
Excellence in the art room. For all of us.
This stands for What.Does. It. Matter.
What does it?
In the long run. 10 years from now. Heck, 6 months from now.
Stay in the present.
Don’t stress about yesterday or tomorrow.
You are in neither one of those places right now.
Right now you are reading this and hopefully finding it helpful.
I teach on a scaffolded approach to mastery and learning.
We’ll call this last one – Rule #8 – “Fox’s Self-Care: A Scaffolded Approach”:
Start by taking care of yourself physically.
Build on that with some solid work/life balance.
Build on that with spiritual enhancement.
Whatever your spiritual affiliation is – practice it!
Pray, meditate, reflect, spread the good vibes. Everywhere.
You cannot be good at anything if you do not practice.
Your mental and spiritual health is no different.
Commit your thoughts in a positive direction, and everyone in your life will see it.
Especially the kids.
Thank you for giving this a read. I sincerely appreciate it.
Stop by and visit with me next week – I think we’re gonna talk about the The Value of Good Value (“yay, pencil shading!”)
Don’t forget to sign up for the email list on the homepage – Art Teacher Goodies are coming your way!
‘Till then, stay safe my friends.