By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder
Dear teacher, take the day
While teachers are often expected to sacrifice for the sake of their students and the school community, the fact is that a mental health day can be the answer to a host of problems.
When you wake up and the idea of facing another day of meetings, lessons, parent emails, playground duty, standardized test prep or whatever seems insurmountable, take the day.
When your child has a field trip and you want to attend, go.
When the dark days of winter never seem to end and you want to curl up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book, do it.
When your head is pounding, your throat hurts, you have a borderline fever, or your body is wracked with coughs, stay home.
Here’s the thing about teachers, in the name of dedication, we put ourselves last. How many times have you convinced yourself that it’s harder to get a sub than it is to drag your tired, sick body to school for eight hours?
If I hazard a guess, I would bet that almost all of you have said that and done that at some point.
Exhaustion isn’t a badge of honor
Too often teachers wear their exhaustion like a badge of honor. They brag to each other about the extra hours they have put in, how much they worked on the weekend, how many days they spent getting their classroom ready for the new year, how quickly they returned to work after having a baby or having surgery.
The reality is there is no medal for working yourself into the ground. You won’t get rewarded for sacrificing your health, time, or mental wellbeing. You won’t get a raise for extra effort. In fact, if anything happens at all, it will be that more is heaped on you.
The truth is, you have sick and personal days for a reason. When you are sick, the premise is that you take time off to recover. Plus, you don’t want to risk getting others sick.
When it comes to mental health, you need some time off too. And likewise, because not being mentally your best may mean you are short tempered, angry, anxious, or weepy, you don’t want to risk putting others through that either.
While times have changed somewhat, many teachers still don’t feel like they should take a day for themselves. However, even one day away from the hectic schedule that is draining you, can give you a brighter perspective.
Take care of you
If you can plan ahead, for a mental health day, a Friday or Monday is wonderful because you can have a three day weekend. That gives you three days for a reset. Plan something you thoroughly enjoy and you can return to school feeling rested and refreshed.
Setting a future date for a personal day can also be great because it gives you something to look forward to. I used to save my personal days to take a field trip with each of my sons once a year, and we all looked forward to that. One year when my son was home from college for his spring break, we planned a mom and son day. I took the day off, and we went to a favorite restaurant and just spent some time together. It was simple, but it was something I looked forward to, and I wouldn’t have missed it for all the standardized prep days in the world!
Just randomly taking a day when the day feels too overwhelming is sometimes also an option. Not having a plan except for taking care of yourself is perfectly acceptable. That is afterall, the entire purpose!
The important element of a mental health day is similar to a physical health day. It is time to do what makes you feel better. That means it’s time to take care of you.
Enjoy the day, guilt free
You should spend time off on your mental health day doing activities that bring you joy. Ask yourself, what is the one thing you always say you wish you had time for? Is it reading a book, painting your nails, taking a long walk, baking a cake from scratch. The activity doesn’t matter, but the resulting feeling of well being after the activity is what matters.
This is not the time to do household chores, run errands, work on taxes, or grade papers (unless of course, you enjoy those tasks!).
Learning to take a mental health day is important for your complete wellbeing as a teacher. Not only will you thank yourself for taking some me time, your students will thank you when you come back in a better frame of mind. They are perceptive creatures and when you aren’t feeling your best mentally and physically, they know.
So when you need it– take the day and enjoy it, guilt free. You need it and deserve it!