After a long day of teaching, have you ever just wanted to put your feet up but remembered that you must do that feedback form? Maybe you have just started teaching and you’re getting overwhelmed with the aspect of being in front of a class for hours at a time. Don’t worry!
Whilst the allure of teaching might make you want to jump headfirst into doing as many hours as you can do, remember that you need to take care of yourself first. Think: do you need to do 50 hours of teaching per week, or even to work on a weekend? Most of the time the answer is no! As teachers, we always feel an obligation to do the best that we can in our craft. However, sometimes the best thing to do is to come away from the screen, have a cuppa, and relax for a while.
Looking after your mental health is one of the most important things a teacher can do, but how do we do it?
Tips For Teachers On Looking After Your Mental Health:
Teaching is a demanding role for most of us, but the rewards that you get from it usually outweigh this demand. In any relationship, you need to feel comfortable with what you are doing, and teaching is no different. What limits and boundaries should be put in place to help maintain a positive mindset?
Everyone’s boundaries are different and we need to remember this. You should not compare yourself to other people as everyone is unique, but it’s hard not to do so. Inherently, humans are competitive, and they want to be on the same level as everyone else. Realistically, we all have different lives so we can’t work in the same manner.
Logically, we must set realistic expectations of ourselves and understand what we can do. Whilst it is important to challenge yourself, don’t do it to the detriment of your health. The criteria that we must bear in mind whilst setting expectations for ourselves is what we feel comfortable doing. For example: looking at your working style, your obligations, and what your energy levels are like throughout the day. If you know that you begin to deflate and lose steam around 4 pm, don’t schedule anything for 4 pm!
The most important idea that we need to possess is the fact that we can say no! Teachers will always want to help people – it’s in our nature. Yet we must remember to ask ourselves: by helping someone else, are you putting yourself at any disservice? Can you physically and mentally do it? It’s always best to listen to your body – if it’s telling you no, then it’s probably not wise to do so.
2) Set Hours
Imagine this: you’ve just been accepted for an online teaching job – congratulations! You go to set your hours and you’re enjoying the role. You think though, let’s set another few hours in my schedule…and another few…and another few. By the time you have done this, you have blocked out the whole schedule as being available! Please don’t do this!
Think to yourself – what times am I happy with working from? Am I a morning person, or a night owl? What other obligations do I have throughout the week? Can I do 15 hours on a Friday? All these questions will help you set your schedule. Once set, don’t alter it unless you must. By doing this, it will give you stability and you will be able to do the fun things in life that you want to do.
When setting your hours, you also must think about any additional work you have to do before and after your lessons. Whilst you might have the materials provided for you, you need to look at them and ensure you have your timings correct for the lesson. On the other side, ensure that you complete any feedback that is required of you. Make sure that you schedule some time for these extra obligations to make your life so much easier.
3) Separate spaces
With the influx of teachers using online communication since the beginning of the year, it is important to separate your workspace and living space as much as you can do. By doing this, you don’t only ensure that you can work effectively, but you separate the thoughts from both sides of your life.
You’re thinking now, how do I do this? Well, first off you need physical separation. If you can work in another room other than where you relax, that will help you immensely. If you cannot, then using something to divide the room (e.g. room dividers or even a bed sheet) can help you. Alternatively, if you’re up to it, you could rearrange the space a bit!
Whilst physical separation can help you, how do you separate work from your personal life in your head? It’s all about being disciplined with yourself; having set working hours doesn’t just help you with energy levels, it also helps you with mentally separating your two frames of mind. If your schedule ends at 6 pm, then stop working at 6 pm! If you work past 6 pm, the distinction between work and relaxation gets confused, which isn’t going to help anyone now.
4) Start small and build-up
When you start teaching, the urge is to throw yourself into everything; to try and understand every little bit about your job. However, if you set the expectation that you are going to do this from day one, by day ten you’ll be exhausted.
You need to start small and build up to ensure that you are taking in and processing all the information that is given to you. When you have a starting block, you can start to develop how you teach, what is good for your students, and what is good for you. Like previously said, make sure that your set hours are reasonable and work from there.
5) Spoon Theory
Okay, so you’re probably asking what the spoon theory is. It’s not the one where you cry into a tub of ice cream whilst eating it with a serving spoon – believe me, I’ve been there, done that!
The Spoon Theory is an idea created by Christine Miserendino to describe how non-visible illnesses, like Lupus, can affect your daily life. Each day you have a limited number of ‘spoons’ and each activity that you do takes an allocated number of spoons. This allows you to get through activities which you might find more difficult or which might take more time. Whilst this theory is primarily useful for people with chronic illnesses, it can be used for teachers as well.
For example, you have twelve ‘spoons’ per day, how would you use them? Writing a lesson plan might take two spoons, teaching a lesson might take three, and completing session feedback might take one. By setting your ideas out in this manner, you make sure that you don’t overwhelm yourself nor affect how you teach your lessons. It’s a win-win situation!
6) Have someone to talk to
You’ve had a bad day- that’s okay. What isn’t okay is keeping it inside you and letting those feelings build-up as they might unexpectedly come out at an inappropriate time. We’ve all done it, and it’s a horrible experience to go through, but just talking to someone can alleviate a lot of that stress and worry.
A lot of the time just talking can help you untangle the thoughts in your head. This can be anyone you trust, whether it be a colleague, a parent, or even a pet. What the most important thing is to let those feelings be visible and to work through them constructively.
Whoever you are talking to, it’s always good to have another view on the difficulties that you are facing. Whilst you might see it in one way, the other person might see it in a completely different way, allowing you to come to a better solution.
7) Don’t apologize
We live in a society where being sorry all the time is the norm; most of the time this is for the smallest of things or even someone else’s behavior. Don’t apologize for this! Whilst it is nice to look after everyone else, we need to look after ourselves first and foremost.
In this respect, don’t apologize for your feelings. By apologizing for your feelings, you are saying to yourself that they don’t matter. That by suppressing them, they will go away. Surprise – they don’t! You need to express your feelings but in a suitable manner. As Pennebaker says, “Inhibition is physical work. To actively inhibit one’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors requires physiological work.” (1997: 9) In other words, the more you feel your feelings, the worse you will feel. You can do this by talking to someone, by doing some physical activity, or having some “me time”.
One thing that many people need to learn is the importance of having “me time”. In this time, you need to do what makes you feel happy, and be unapologetic about it. Do you want to sit on the sofa with a face mask on and watch bad TV? Then do it! Do you want to go for a hike up the side of a hill? Do it! The most important thing is to not let people make you feel guilty about what you need to do. It is perfectly okay to say, “I need a night off” or “I need time to myself”.
It is important to understand that whilst you can control your behavior, you cannot always control anyone else’s, so don’t apologize for what they do. I understand that it is hard to get out of that rut, but when you realize that you don’t have to take responsibility for other people’s actions, that’s when you can focus on yourself. If a colleague does something uncalled for, don’t apologize for their behavior, let them do it themselves. From that, you are allowing them to learn from their mistakes as well as allowing yourself to let go.
8) Physical health is as important as mental health
Whilst this article is about mental health, physical wellbeing contributes tremendously to mental wellbeing. Consequently, if you look after one, you look after the other.
I know that everyone goes on about how important sleep is, but it is! It is recommended that most adults require between seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Whilst this can vary from person to person, at least seven hours are recommended. This is because each stage of sleep helps in different ways, so if you wake up earlier than needed, your body might not have regenerated enough for the next day. It is said that deep sleep, or REM sleep, contributes to the repair of your body and the energy needed for the next day.
Another thing that most people go on about is diet. Whilst sometimes it is okay to cry into a bucket of KFC chicken on the bus back home from work because you have had a bad day, what you put into your body determines how your body will function. If you don’t have enough nutrients, you won’t be able to focus, so you won’t be able to teach as effectively. This also includes drinking enough water- sometimes a good cup of tea won’t cut the mustard!
Finally, be active. It is recommended that adults need to have at least thirty minutes of exercise a day to keep healthy. What you do currently is up to you! Maybe go and walk the dog, play some tennis, or run up and down the road. It might also be a good idea to find that dusty Wii and get on some Wii sports again.
9) Call out
If you feel like life is getting too stressful, don’t suffer in silence, talk out about it. There are so many services which can help you and people trained to listen to you.
NHS Mental Health: https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/how-to-access-mental-health-services/
The Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/
Mental Health Europe: https://www.mhe-sme.org/
If your country isn’t listed here, search ‘Mental Health Services’ and your country to find results for you.
Remember- take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, and don’t worry! You’ve got this.