Learning Teacher Self-Care

By: Debrah Silva, Agriculture Teacher, Tulare High School

As new teachers, we are told that we have to find a balance between work life and home life as we find our places within our new community. At first, this seems nearly impossible, as we try to prove ourselves worthy to our new co-workers in the Ag department we are hired into. We take on as many tasks as we are given and before too long, our “to-do” list grows longer and longer. We agree to tasks that we know will be difficult and exhausting while disregarding our own physical and mental health. We want the seasoned teachers within our departments, sections, and even our regions to accept us into the tight-knit community of ag teachers. As we juggle all of these new tasks and responsibilities, we forget to stop, take a break and focus on ourselves. We forget to make sure to eat healthily, get enough sleep and spend time with our loved ones. 

In my first year of teaching, I did not set time aside for myself or my family like all teachers should, regardless of how many years of teaching they have under their belt. Teacher self-care was not a concept that I was familiar with, and I spent long hours at work trying to better an Ag Department, once been a reputable chapter, but had been neglected for many years. My son spent many school nights with me in my classroom instead of at home around the dinner table. Eventually, the amount of time and effort I was pouring into my work began to negatively impact my home life and my health. I had to step back and prioritize my responsibilities. I had to start setting aside time for my family and myself. 

After realizing that I had to take better care of myself and that I needed to do a better job at planning, organizing, and prioritizing my time spent between work and home life, I began making to-do lists at the beginning of each school week. This allowed me to focus on the most critical tasks first and set aside those tasks that were not as important or could wait until the next day. I also began to set a time to drop what I was doing, even if I was right in the middle of completing a task, and head home for the day. I made it a goal to be home in time to spend time with my son and husband at least three times each workweek and cook dinner that we could enjoy together. This began to improve our quality of life, as I took time for myself to enjoy time with family and focus on my nutrition.

Self-care is any action that is used to improve one’s health and well-being. Self-care is an essential component of a teacher’s physical and mental health. It reduces teacher burnout and allows teachers to be the most effective they can be within their classrooms. Teaching is a stressful job in many ways, and taking care of one’s self is necessary to decrease stress and anxiety. The following strategies can be used to take care of one’s self more effectively:

Recognize your limits. Only agree to take on what you can handle. Do not add more to your plate than you know you can complete without interfering with other responsibilities and your home life. Trying to be a super-teacher will only lead to burnout and have a negative impact on your teaching ability.

Take mental breaks. Take a break from your work as needed. Set aside time to take mental and physical breaks throughout the day. Eat a healthy snack and meditate or rest your eyes, even if it is just for a few minutes at a time. This helps rejuvenate your energy level and gives you the motivation to complete the task at hand. 

Start your day in a positive way. Begin each day with something that brings joy to your life and makes you feel good. This can be anything from meditation or prayer to enjoying coffee with your spouse. How you start your day can set the tone for how you perform throughout the rest of the day. 

Be active and exercise. Regular exercise has been proven to help increase energy levels and improve the quality of sleep at night. It helps to improve concentration and cognitive function. It also is known to reduce stress and anxiety.

Set goals for yourself. Setting goals helps guide your focus and spend your time more efficiently. It allows you to break bad habits and trigger new, more positive behaviors. Goals allow you to measure progress, and this encourages growth. 

I challenge you to find one thing you can do for yourself each day that brings you joy. If you include this in your daily routine, you will see a positive change in your mindset and teaching practices. 

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/

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