Celebrating Self-Care

by | 05.12.17

Dan Tricarico has taught English in the West Hills High School English Department in San Diego for more than 20 years. He is the author of “The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom” (DBC, Inc. 2015) and blogs about self-care at thezenteacher.com. Connect with Dan on Twitter @thezenteacher.

The PTSA at my school does a lovely job of showing appreciation to our staff during Teacher Appreciation Week. Sometimes they fill our mailboxes with nice notes that are attached to “fun size” candy bars, sometimes they surprise us with much needed supplies, and sometimes they provide a breakfast in the office that includes muffins, bagels, fresh fruit, juice, and coffee. I’m grateful for these efforts because, for all its blessings, teaching can sometimes be a rather thankless job. It’s important, then, that we learn how to hold on to that sense of appreciation long after the last muffin has been eaten and the final friendly note has been read and filed away.

As it happens, we can maintain the momentum of positive morale all year long by generating our own sense of appreciation. Of course, this ongoing appreciation is most effective when it is:

    1. Sincere. It must be genuine and come from a place of kindness, gratitude, and empathy. We must also realize that making other people happy will similarly raise our own sense of personal well-being.
    2. Internal. We need to stop looking for validation, support, and encouragement from “out there” and learn to intrinsically appreciate ourselves and recognize the value of what we do. And part of that is accomplished by making choices based on our personal value system and by embracing intentional self-care.
    3. A cultural norm of the school. As a site, we can strive to encourage and support one another, instead of taking part in the seemingly unavoidable dramas and petty jealousies that creep up and often derail consistent appreciation among educators.
    4. Present in every area of your life. You enter the classroom as a whole person, so allow appreciation to sustain you in the same way. Appreciate others and yourself for things that happen both inside and outside the classroom. In addition to your responsibilities as a teacher, you also deserve recognition for your efforts as a parent, spouse, friend, and for all the other roles you play in life.
    5. Ongoing. There doesn’t have to be a formal event or activity for you to express appreciation. April may be National Poetry Month, for example, but guess what? You can read a poem any time you want! Same with giving or receiving appreciation.

One day is nice, and a week is even better, but we need to find a way for teacher appreciation to be consistent, reliable, and recurring. Why?

And if no one else has said that to you recently, I hope you’ll hear me say it here and now.

When it comes to expressing and receiving appreciation, we are limited only by our imagination and desire. Recently, for example, our admin team built a bulletin board directly over the place where teachers check in, and set a stack of Post-It notes nearby. Any staff member could grab a stickie, jot a note to encourage a colleague, and place it on the “STAFF SHOUT-OUTS” board, as it was called. For nearly a week, I wrote four or five every morning. Not only did it improve morale among the staff to see those notes, but it also made me feel good knowing that I was leaving positive comments for my peers.

So I hope you saved the note and enjoyed the muffin. But please also remember to save a handful of kind words for a colleague and a few small bites of appreciation for yourself in the following days, weeks, and months after Teacher Appreciation Week. They just might serve as sustenance for you and help you persevere—not only until the last day of the school year, but until the last day of your career.

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