Teachers are a breed of martyrs, and they, like everyone else rarely think about how to improve the mental health of teachers. They have a ton of responsibilities outside of teaching and grading. Some are self imposed like ensuring their class is super cute and welcoming for kids, others are are just part of the job like attending staff meetings, heading up committees, coaching and others still feel like they aren’t part of the job, but who else is going to do it? And so, teachers are often working through lunch breaks, staying after school or arriving early all to stay on top on the endless pile of work that is teaching.
And hey, every job is like this. There are things no one signed up for but we have to do as part of our job. No one likes it, but we do it right? But in teaching, there is an odd mindset that no one else can do it like me. I’ve known teachers who don’t take sick days even when truly ill because it’s just too much work to make supply plans. There’s just “too much to tell the supply” and while a part of me understands me this, there’s another part that thinks, so the day is a bit of a write off. So what? Are the students really going to fall behind because you weren’t there for one day? Is that big of a deal if they didn’t sort living things in a Venn diagram and realized that hey, frogs can live on land and in water? Can’t that be done tomorrow? No wonder by Christmas the teacher memes all over Facebook portray teachers with frazzled hair sticking up in all directions, looking a bit like Bellatrix Le Strange and chugging too large to hold glasses of wine.
So today I want to assure teachers everywhere that it’s okay to take care of you. To practice self care. To take a mental health day. Really, it is. I promise you.
Everyone Deserves a Mental Health Day
How to improve teachers mental health is the same as how we improve health of everyone else. By practicing self care—and that includes taking a mental health day! I am here today to remind you that we are all human beings. Imperfect, frail, and that we all need a break. We all need and deserve a mental health day. It’s totally fine, and the days of feeling guilty about it need to be long behind us. I think as a society we are starting to see that life is demanding. Like, seriously demanding. Maybe more demanding than it’s ever been and that it takes it toll. And the fall out can be huge. Taking a day off to unplug from work, from social media, from responsibilities is at times, necessary, in order to keep going. Life sometimes feels like a hamster wheel, but hamsters get off that wheel from time to time, and we should too. We deserve to take care of our emotional well being. Have a day to just sleep in, read a book, not look at emails or chat with co-workers about…well, work. We deserve a day that is all about us. What we love to do, what we need to do. It recharges our batteries, uplifts our spirits and keeps us going. No matter what your job is, what your responsibilities are, you deserve that mental health day. Putting yourself first is not selfish when it’s balanced with the rest of your life. This is how to improve teachers mental health, by allowing them those much needed days—and teachers need to allow themselves those days too.
Teaching is Emotionally and Physically Draining
I had no idea when I became a teacher how emotionally or physically draining teaching would be. Like, no idea. Being around little kids is demanding–each of them wants your attention this instant for everything. From help with a math question to tying their shoe, you have twenty plus little people who want you now. I’ve had as many as four students talking to me at once and I had no idea what any of them wanted. So, I patiently made them wait their turns and tried to solve the problems. And sure, that’s part of working with kids. Because guess what? Even as they older, they are just as demanding, the demands are just different one. But all of this cuts into teaching and learning time. You are always watching the clock and before you know it, your entire social studies period is over and all you’ve done is read the page from the text book. You haven’t even started the activity page or created that anchor chart. Your head hurts, your ready to tell the kids that it doesn’t matter whose blue crayon is it, and you drag yourself home feeling like a wet rag. And that’s just a small taste of the exhaustion that comes with teaching.
Sometimes you have this on top of students with diverse needs who can’t tell you what they want, or what they need and that’s a whole other level of tired, a whole other way of teaching. And that is what often leaves me in tears, being torn between my class and my kids with diverse needs who need me so much more, but knowing that I have to juggle both. That’s what gets my anxiety heightened, makes my heart pound and my breath come short. Anyone with a job this emotionally draining needs their mental health days, plain and simple.
Related Post: 6 Easy Self Care Tips for Stressed Teachers
Putting Off Mental Health Days Can Lead to Burn Out
If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or are having trouble focusing, you definitely need a mental health day. Putting this off can lead to total burn out as the stress and anxiety increase and began to drain your body physically. Your life is busy–you have work, family obligations, errands and chores and these things can all quickly and almost permanently take you away from the things you love to do, and enjoy doing, the things that relax you and reduce your stress. The more you give to these obligations, the less you give to yourself, the more stress and burn out you’ll experience. This true of everyone, and we teachers are no different. How to improve the mental health of teachers—acknowledge we need those days because at times we think that we have to be on all the time because our job is on all the time. Every moment you’re in front of the class, or working with a group of kids, even when you’re out on recess duty, you are on like the Engerizer Bunny that just keeps going and going. Look that one up on Google if you have no idea what I’m talking about *wink* But unlike that bunny, you don’t run on batteries. Your batteries run out, and need recharging and taking a mental health to indulge in things you enjoy you doing is recharging those batteries.
And if you are still not convinced…consider that
Your Class will Fine without you, Really
I get it. It’s your class. These are your kids. You know them best, they respond best to you and you have a plan for every unit you are teaching. Taking a day off feels like you’re upending all of that, but honestly your class will be fine without you. Even if the supply teacher is totally inept, you can always pick up the pieces of the lesson later and move on. It’s not the end of the world. But you might not be fine without that day off! You don’t want to give yourself pneumonia do you, just because you refused to stay home and rest? Or have a nervous breakdown because you are exhausted from planning, writing report cards, parent teacher interview night, the special education meeting for the new student you who just joined your class and coaching for volleyball? Does it sound worth it? Your class will be fine without you. Honestly.
Here are some tips and suggestions to help you in your journey towards improving your mental health and practicing self care.
Teachers, share your thoughts about how to improve teachers mental health in the comments section. I truly want to advocate for us as I know the challenges we all face.