Is self-care the new bad word?
There has been a lot of backlashes recently by teachers who are tired of the words self-care being bandied about like they are the panacea to all teacher problems. Here’s the thing, self-care is 100 percent necessary to survive teaching, especially in today’s environment. However, the conditions that are causing this high need for teachers to practice self-care must be addressed.
When teachers are told to take care of themselves and then given new directives by the administration that take even more of their time and energy the message is a moot point.
When administration arranges a PD talking about self-care that takes away from the time teachers could be using to get their work done during school hours and forces them to do more on their own time they really aren’t concerned about self-care.
When state legislatures pass laws that require more training, longer workdays, endless paperwork, and standardized tests that don’t really inform instruction this again negates any idea that they care about teachers.
When teachers are forced to do online and in-person instruction, respond to parent requests after hours, use their own time to complete work that used to be done during school hours the message is loud and clear– teachers don’t matter.
Drastic times call for drastic measures
The phrase “drastic times call for drastic measures” has been attributed to Greek physician and philosopher Hippocrates who said, “For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable.”
The plight of teacher treatment has reached extreme times.
The increasing level of demands, how they are being treated, and the low level of respect being shown are key factors in the state of education teachers face today.
I read a phrase the other day that said, “I love teaching, but I don’t love being a teacher right now.”
And that’s where we are.
Teachers have been living in drastic times for years, but the pandemic and the resulting expectations by schools and the public have raised stress levels to a new high.
The result is more teachers leaving the profession, fewer people entering the teaching field, higher rates of emotional and psychological problems, and increased absences. After decades of higher demands placed on teachers, the profession is entering a tipping point.
So, back to the original question– is self-care the new bad word?
The entire concept of this website Time Out For Teachers was built on the premise that good teachers need and must fill their own bucket or they have nothing left to give. In a culture of taking, taking, taking and teachers who have been giving, giving, giving, it’s long past time to redefine the concept of self-care.
Self-care will never go out of style, but understanding what that really means is important.
Self-care in its basic form is anything that promotes your own physical, mental, and emotional wellness.
Too often we are told to take a bubble bath, take a walk, find a hobby, read a book. All of these options can be a form of self-care if they are things you find pleasure in, but when your schedule is booked finding time for those things feel impossible.
When you’ve cared for others all day even thinking about adding one of those things to your list feels overwhelming. If self-care feels like work, can you really call it self-care?
So what’s a busy, overwhelmed, overworked teacher to do?
We can’t wait for parents or administrators to decrease expectations because they won’t. History shows those demands have only increased.
We can’t wait for society to see our value and respect us because the respect for teachers continues to decrease no matter what schools and teachers do.
I propose that teachers as a whole see their own value and decrease their own demands.
Long before technology took over the classrooms, teachers left work on their desks at the end of each day. Literally, except for papers to grade, when they left the building, they left their job behind. Administrative and parent communication did not exist outside of the school day. Phone calls only happened at school. Texting, social media, LMS platforms, and other communication apps didn’t exist.
In our modern instant-demand society, parents, students, and administrators have encroached on teachers’ lives to the point that many teachers feel there is little distinction between work hours and home hours.
Steps you can take
After talking to many teachers and reading comments in multiple teacher groups here are the acts that many teachers say have helped them reclaim their lives and find time for themselves and their families:
Disconnect all school apps from your personal phone
Remember that teachers are not trauma surgeons. There is very rarely an educational emergency, and if there is a true emergency they will find a way to let you know.
Teachers are natural-born helpers, so when you have 24/7 connectivity you feel compelled to use it. Afraid to go cold turkey, just give it a try for a month and find out how liberating it can be.
Do not respond to emails or phones outside of school hours
Make it clear to parents from day one what your working hours are, how they can contact you, and when they can expect a reply.
Put an after-hour autoresponder on our school email saying, “Thank you for contacting me. I check my emails from _____ to _____ each day. You can expect a response in 24 hours.”
Do not give parents or students any personal contact information
Your personal time should be just that. You wouldn’t call your accountant at home and parents should not be calling you at home. I realize in smaller communities this seems hard when you know everyone but replying, “I’ll check into that tomorrow when I am at work” goes a long way in setting expectations.
Believe me, when I say as soon as one person knows your personal information, they aren’t afraid to share it. I would also encourage you to let the office staff know not to give out your personal information. That should go without saying, but I had it happen twice.
Set a timer to go off at a selected time each day and leave the building when it does
Teacher reality is that your work is never done and it’s never going to be done. Be realistic with daily goals and don’t beat yourself up when it doesn’t happen.
Think back over the last month to how many times your contracted preparation time has been used by others to cover other classes, attend IEP meetings, help other teachers, tutor students, group planning, etc. It happens to all of us, but that doesn’t mean you should then have to give up your after-school time to make up for it.
Say no to added duties that are outside of the contracted hours
While we often cannot say no to demands made during school hours, we absolutely can say no to work outside of school hours.
Over time, teachers have acquiesced to extra activities in the name of being “good teachers.” This false narrative needs to be stopped. You can be an excellent teacher in the classroom and refuse to work for free outside of school hours.
But, you say, “I love helping with the prom. I love chaperoning homecoming. I love working with students for Spell Bowl.” If that’s you, and you love it, then, by all means, do you. However, if you resent what you are doing, feel anger at being taken advantage of, or are missing out on things with your own family, it’s time to reevaluate your outside of school hours.
Realize teachers can never do enough
As societal demands have increased, teachers have been made to feel guilty or selfish if they aren’t meeting them.
Reality check– teachers will never be enough for the demands of society.
Schools have gone from being the educational leaders in the community to also being the social workers, babysitters, counselors, health care providers, meal providers, entertainers, and the list goes on. As teachers and schools have done more, parents, as a whole, have become less involved and have continued to demand more for their children.
How to get started
It’s time for teachers and schools to reevaluate their roles and to create realistic expectations for themselves. We can start by demanding our lives back, not giving in to teacher myths, setting boundaries, learning to say no, balancing work and home life, and reclaiming our lives outside of school.