An Early Start to Teacher Self-Care
It’s September. The summer is a blissful memory. The excitement of starting school has faded. The future holds the prospect of infinite numbers of interruptions to my classes as kids are pulled out for special rehearsals, early dismissals, photo shoots, admission tours, quite apart from the flu season, field trip season, and shorter and darker days season. And I have report cards to write, teacher parent conferences to prepare for and carry out, a hundred emails to answer, a committee to sit on, a report to put together for accreditation, my team/department to meet with, a new initiative to collaborate on with not enough preparation or resources. Sounds like a typical October alright!
Teachers can at one and the same time be fulfilled in our teaching / engagement with kids as well as feel exhausted, harassed, rebellious. A new report including an audio interview with the program leader Angela Watson identifies these truths and provides some suggestions. So, if you are in the middle of the October blues, or you fear getting into the January blacks, or the April reds, this might have some resonance for you. Angela Watson leads the Teacher 40 Hour Workweek Club with the intent of shaving 10 hours or more off the workweek and creating more balance in teachers’ lives. Here are some reasons Angela gives for teachers failing to take care of themselves:
- We don’t notice – exhaustion has become a norm. The Center for Organizational Resilience at Ball State University researched teacher sleep and discovered that
- About 43 percent slept an average of 6 hours or less each night, which is less than the 7 to 9 hours recommended for healthy functioning.
- About 64 percent said they felt drowsy during the school day.
- Half of respondents experienced daytime sleepiness at least three times per week and either missed work or made errors at the workplace at least one day in the previous three months due to a lack of sleep.
- Only a third of school personnel admitted to getting a good night’s sleep most of the time.
- Female respondents are more prone to suffer sleep disturbances, drowsiness and sleep problems.
- We don’t want to say no! Saying yes is the teacher’s drug of choice. Whether it is a student, a colleague or even an administrator, it’s hard to turn down the opportunity to make someone or something better. It’s just what we are wired to do.
What would it feel like if the workweek felt different and seemed manageable for this week, this month, this year, for the 40 years of a teaching career? What would that take? Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, in his 2016 book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, does not see rest as the opposite of work. Counterintuitively, Alex says that “some of the history’s most creative people, people whose achievements in art and science and literature are legendary … found that in order to realize their ambitions … they needed rest”. He provides a research base for deliberate rest enabling fierce focus, cultivating calm, increasing time available, and helping us live the good life.
So in this month of October, commit to deliberate rest on behalf of your students:
- Have a fixed bed-time and stick to it – sleep 8 hours a night so you can get your work done
- Exercise by doing or starting something that you can practice at different ages
- Stop twice a week – stop for an hour and do nothing – build it into your routine
- Cultivate a hobby and get good at it
Or pick four other actions to do that will provide you with deliberate rest. Always include the sleep part since your brain works so hard during sleep doing things you can’t do when awake. Whatever your combination of four actions is, find someone to hold you accountable to them. And you will get to November in a much better space!