The Guardian Teacher Network included an article that caught my interest this week. The Secret Teacher article was written by a professional who said teaching robbed me of my health – and nearly my life. Reading the entire article, we learn of a professional who had been a teacher for 13 years and was often referred to as a natural [who] achieved excellent results, [had] enthusiasm for [her] subject, and cared passionately about the welfare of [her] students. Yet, this teacher lost herself somewhere along the way, no longer being the carefree, garrulous individual she had been. She came to suffer anxiety and depression, was unable to eat or sleep, constantly doubted herself, and finally lost her confidence in the classroom. She soon thought she wanted to take her life, but soon realized that was not what she really wanted; she simply did not want to continue in her role as a teacher.
While this individual’s story may be more traumatic than many, I do not believe she is alone. In fact, I know she is not alone. There are so many who need help, but don’t know a safe place to find it. Actually, she, and others, may actually know where to find assistance but, a teacher asking for help, and then being comfortable in receiving assistance, is just not the norm. Teachers aren’t used to receiving help; they’re used to being in the role of helping others: What do you need? How can I help you? How can I fix this for you?
What so many teachers don’t realize is that they simply must learn how to take care of themselves and establish a habit of self-care.
Stop and think: You’re on an airplane and the stewardess says, as part of the safety instructions, that, should the oxygen masks drop down, you should put the mask on yourself before trying to assist anyone else. Doesn’t that just highlight the need for self-care? If we don’t take care of ourselves first, we won’t be in a position to help anyone else.
My sister used to tell me I was sweeping problems under the rug and warned that, pretty soon, that little bump under the rug would become a mountain that would hit me hard and I wouldn’t be able to function without learning to manage all of the problems I had swept away… I still hate admitting that she was right about that.
During all those years I thought I was actually doing a good thing. The responsible and mature thing. I was putting my children first in every way I knew how. I was taking care of my teaching job and leaving no stone unturned in an effort to put my very best foot forward. I was attending to the needs of my friends, and extended family. But, in hindsight, I was not taking care of myself. And, when I didn’t take care of myself, I set an example for my children that I would never want them to emulate themselves.
I did not live a story similar to the author of this Secret Teacher article, but that was only a matter of luck. I think any educator who escapes the results of overworking, leading a life without home/job balance, and who isn’t aware of the perils of living a life without a habit of self-care is at risk.
Teachers, like all others, need to establish habits of self-care. People must realize that self-care is not the same as being selfish; it is wise, and necessary. As pointed out by Tom Rath and Jim Harter in Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, people should work toward having:
- Career wellbeing-just liking what you do every day
- Social wellbeing-having strong relationships and having love in your life
- Financial wellbeing-effectively managing your economic life
- Physical wellbeing-having the health and enough energy to do the things you want to do on a daily basis
- Community wellbeing-feeling as though you belong, a place to hang your hat, a sense of engagement with your community
Additionally, maintaining sufficient sleep, water, and nutrition are important, as well as, taking alone time for yourself. To process. To re-energize. And to have time to appreciate the wonders and gifts the world has given to you.
This, I hope, the author of this week’s Secret Teacher allows herself to experience. And all of the other educators out there, too.
Be well, my friends.
Photograph by Mayur Gala.