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How to Make Self-Care a Priority: Tips for New Teachers

During my first year of teaching, I stayed late at school most days of the week. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I was at school as late as 7:30 or 8 pm. 😭 Part of the issue was that I didn't have a good system for batching (which you can read about here), but I also failed to recognize that the work would always be there, and that I could give myself permission to set work hours.

This year especially, teacher self-care is critical. Between mastering new LMS (Learning Management Systems), juggling online or face-to-face teaching, and lesson-planning, it probably feels like you are just trying to keep your head above water.

Working non-stop is not sustainable long-term, so I want to share with you 5 tips that you can start to implement now to help find a long-term healthy work-life balance.

1. Set Work Hours

One of the mistakes I made early in teaching was checking my email in the evening and on weekends. I would find myself responding to parent emails at 11:30 at night or during the weekend. Resist the urge to check your email. Set an away message on your email so that parents get a quick response. I have found that if I respond to a parent email on the weekend, this just opens the door for a conversation. I then find myself responding to multiple emails and this cycle continues each week because the parent realizes that I check my email on the weekend. Businesses have work hours, and so should teachers. We need to have office hours so that we can mentally turn off our work. Plus, the evening and weekend are yours, so there's no need to feel guilty about not checking or respond to emails.

2. Take Saturday or Sunday Off

Hear me out. I get that it's really difficult to not do any lesson planning or work on the weekend, but you should reserve at least one day (or at least a good chunk of the day) for you. I suggest making Saturday a non-work day, because having just finished a school-week, this will give you time to rest. You need to time to re-coup and mentally prepare, and one of the best ways we can do this is by taking a break from work. If Sunday is your day of rest, that works too. The point is that teachers need time to put work aside, and catch our breath.

3. Be Intentional

Do you ever feel like the weekend just zoomed by and it was a total waste? I've been there, and one thing that has helped me is being intentional about how I spend my weekend. This doesn't mean I plan every moment of the day, but I do try to make sure I have time set aside to do things that I love. Maybe it's time for a nice long nap, a hiking adventure, spending time with family, reading a good book, taking a long bath, shopping, baking etc., just make sure that you have time for you. Make this a habit now, because it's really easy to get going and completely forget to stop and take time for you.

4. Make a Plan & Set Timers

With teaching, the work will always be there. There will always be more we could do, create, or implement to make the lesson more rigorous, engaging, differentiated, etc. So, with that in mind, it really helps to make a plan. If you do need to spend time planning on the weekend (which most of us do), write out a list of specific tasks that need to get done. Focus on the ones that are the highest priority first. Then set a timer, and hold yourself accountable. I don't know about you, but I can get lost in the lesson planning and before too long, an hour has gone by and I still have lots to do. I've found that a timer really helps me do work that is good-enough.

Also, now that schools are online or are using technology is new ways, it can be tempting to add fun fonts and clip art to make online lessons more welcoming and exciting. But if it's taking 10 minutes to make a Morning Welcome Slide, then consider setting a timer. Kids will remember how they felt, not so much how fun or cute the background layout looks.

5. Take a Mental Health Day

Yep. This is a real thing, and I believe that teachers need to take mental health days from time to time. I remember being so nervous about taking time off and wondering what other teachers would think. But no one cares, and in fact my colleagues said "good for you." There's no shame in taking a mental health day. You can't pour from an empty cup. Again, when (not, if) you do take a mental health day, be intentional about how you spend it. You want to get the most out of it, so don't spend your mental health day grading papers or doing work. Take the day for you.

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