nWhen I was a new teacher in my early 20's, I worked around the clock. I would get to my school early in the morning, at least an hour before the 8:20 bell rang to start the day. Usually more like 6:45 I would arrive at the building. I would stay until after 5- sometimes closer to 6 pm. You would think with all this time at the building, I would be completely caught up and organized, but alas I never, ever felt caught up. I would bring work home, too.
I remember a teacher saying to me, "You know, there is no prize for the person who stays the longest." It felt kind of snarky to me at the time, I think she wanted me to see that I wasn't impressing anyone by putting so much physical time in at work. I truly wasn't trying to impress anyone. I was trying to keep my head above water. I couldn't understand how everyone else left so early and still got everything done.
Now I know they weren't getting everything done either. There is no way to get it all done.
You can literally work every hour of the day as a teacher and you would still find more that you should do, more that you could do.
I used to set my alarm for 2am. Seriously. I had a three year old son and a year old daughter and I was in a new grade level. I couldn't stay late at work the way I used to or arrive as early. When I got home from work, I had mom jobs to do and couldn't open my work bag. I was exhausted by the time the kids feel asleep and would fall asleep then too. So, I realized, I could get up in the middle of the night and work for a few hours, then go back to sleep an hour or two before the day started.
I did it for many months. I stopped when I wrote "Yikes!" on a student's math worksheet where she answered no questions correct in the minute sprint we did. Her mother was upset with my choice of words and called my principal. I had a caring, supportive relationship with the family all year but, in one moment, at 2am, I hurt that by writing a word I shouldn't have on a child's paper. Turns out you aren't your clearest at 2am.
Nowadays? I have been teaching for 18 years. I still think I could work around the clock and have more I should do, more I could do. I arrive at work about 20 minutes before the kids come and many days I leave when I am contractually allowed at 3:15. While I bring work home, I just don't always get to it. (I often don't). I prioritize sleep because it is good for my physical and mental health. I am a better everything when I am rested- better mom, better teacher, better person. I've been working on better health- exercising, eating well, taking at least a little time for myself each day. This means that bulletin boards aren't as updated. It means phone calls get pushed off until the next day. It means sometimes the students wait another day before receiving a test score.
Self care isn't bubble baths and candles. It is knowing you are a person who has important needs that deserve to be met, regardless of a job that continues to pile more and more on your back and expect you to somehow make miracles happen. Self care is getting rest, getting movement, eating food that fuels you, breathing, reading, connecting with friends, spending quality time with your family, and knowing that you are replaceable at work (it's true) but not in your own life.
How do you handle the demands of teaching while prioritizing your health?
Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski