Are Your Students Learning Self Care From You?

Dear Educators,

The reports on stress and anxiety in education – for teachers and students alike – have prompted me to write you this urgent letter. Historically, teaching has always been known for being demanding. From lesson planning to classroom design, from behavior management to formative feedback, from assessment criteria to learning objectives, there is always a plate to spin.

For a full year now, we’ve been responsive to rapidly changing contexts for teaching and learning – distance, hybrid, asynchronous… and everything in between. It has been the equivalent of running a marathon at sprint speed… and, well, that’s not reasonable.

As committed as we are to turning around our grading, customizing our curriculum, and creating additional resources to support and extend learning from home, we are simply grinding ourselves to a pulp. How can we build and repair the proverbial plane while flying it?

There’s a balance between following a pacing guide and being dragged around by it. There’s a sweet spot between depth and breadth of learning. There’s a ‘juuus riiiight’ that is neither too hard nor too soft, or so Goldilocks said.

What are we modeling for our students by flying at warp speed? How much more important might it be for us to show our students that well-being is a desired outcome and a worthy priority? What might our students remember five, ten, twenty years from now about us if we take the time to say “I was tired and that’s okay” or “I chose to stop because it was important to have time with my family” or “ I had an opportunity to get outside instead of staying at my desk.”

If we met with students who described working non-stop and rarely pausing to catch their breath, we know what we’d advise. We’d tell them that their behavior is not healthy. We’d ask them to be kind to themselves. We’d remind them that some things are more important and longer lasting than some of the things that consume them. We’d offer time-tested adages like “you can’t take it with you” or Gandhi’s “There’s more to life than increasing its speed” or Kierkegaard’s “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” Why is it so hard for us to offer ourselves this same wise advice?

A friend of mine, Christine Flory, works with educators (and others, but -hey- I’m talking about us right now) to ensure wellness and balance. She knows that carving out time for self-care is equally as important as checking off another item from my never-ending list of tasks. She reminds me that my students are counting on me to bring them my best self and that means having energy, being rested, and approaching our time together with a good spirit. What students do not deserve this of their teachers?

Wishing you each a restful night and a bright tomorrow,

Sincerely,

Wendy W. Amato

PS This letter wouldn’t be complete without some What Ifs. Maybe one (or all! – geez, I’m optimistic) will disrupt you from that slide down the slippery slope towards teacher burnout and lock in like a grappling hook to cause pause and provide leverage to start the climb back up towards balance and wellness so your students can see and experience you as a positive role model for self care.

  • What if you gave your students a night off from homework and, instead, suggested that they use the time to help a friend?
  • What if you took a break from individual feedback and offered the class some holistic observations and a few representative examples?
  • What if you started class with some gentle music and stretching or dancing or vigorous smiling?
  • What if you took a moment for yourself to enjoy an ebook on self- care?
  • What if you took your laptop outside to teach class tomorrow?
  • What if you gave yourself a pass on some household chore that really can wait?
  • What if you invited a friend to be a guest speaker or guest reader or guest comedian so that you and your students could simply share an experience together?
  • What if you took a moment to write down some of the thoughts that you keep replaying in your head so that your mind can rest?
  • What is you shared this letter with a fellow teacher who needs it?

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