Taking Care of Yourself to Take Care of Your Kids
by Tanya Hill | 04.27.18
We all come into teaching because we care about children. When I started teaching 21 years ago, it took a while to learn that taking care of my kids also means taking care of myself.
As all teachers know, the work never ends. Even during our breaks, there’s a new strategy to learn, a new curriculum rolling out, a new idea we saw online. When you start to feel like you’re drowning in work, it can seem like the only answer is to work more – to come in early, stay late, work over breaks – and you can trick yourself into thinking that’s what being a good teacher is.
We can work ourselves to exhaustion as a form of validation. And that’s where “teacher guilt” comes from: When you do something for yourself in the evenings or weekends, you tell yourself, “I should really be grading the papers I have in my bag.”
But if I try to do everything, I’m going to get sick as a dog, and I’m not going to be able to teach at all. One experience that drove this home for me was catching a bad flu in 2011. I would not wish that flu on anyone. After three days at home, I felt like I needed to get back to my kids. I went to school, but I was still sick, sitting there in the classroom, all bundled up, giving my students worksheet after worksheet to complete because I was too sick to teach. My principal took one look at me and said, “Uh-uh. Go home.” It was a wake-up call for me. I felt so guilty staying home, but when I went in, I was not my best self. I couldn’t possibly get my lesson across.
When we take time for ourselves – to heal when we’re sick or just to release some stress when we get overwhelmed – we come back refreshed and renewed. That’s a tremendous benefit for our kids, so when you get a break, take it! Go spend time with your friends and family. Get some hot chocolate. Get a manicure. Go shopping. Go to the park and play with your kids. Go buy a novel. Download some new music.
The bottom line here is we’ve got to release that teacher guilt. We must stop trying to prove that we are the best teacher by neglecting ourselves. Teaching is a world-shaping, future-changing profession – and it’s also very demanding. Part of doing it well is learning this: Taking care of yourself is taking care of your kids. Taking care of yourself is how you put your best self in front of your students, and that’s how we make sure our kids get the best education we can give.