Before planes depart, flight attendants tell passengers, “In case of an emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.” This intrigues me. I have always thought, “Wouldn’t you want to be selfless and help others around you first, especially children?” We will come back to that.
Now, let’s look at the notion of “helping ourselves before others” from a teacher lens. Teachers are wired to care about students, A LOT. Regardless of the situation, many of us will work until we believe we have the “perfect” lesson, working until we have nothing left to give. Doing this consistently takes a toll on the body physically, mentally, and emotionally. Because of this, teachers are unable to be their “best self”. Students don’t need a “perfect lesson”, not that a perfect lesson exists anyway.
This pandemic has been extremely challenging. Many have lost jobs, struggling to put food on the table, and are doing whatever they can do to make ends meet. With all of that, it would make sense that they would be emotionally spent. This leads me to feel a bit guilty. How am I struggling mentally and emotionally, if all these other people have more on their plate than me? After talking with many others that have struggled as well is when I REALLY understood that “self-care” is critical. Now, I realize that it’s OK to admit, and that it’s not something to be embarrassed about. Everyone needs it.
Self-care can be defined as “Taking an active role in protecting one’s well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” This Coronavirus pandemic qualifies for many as a “period of stress”. Let’s examine what teachers have been doing since distance learning has begun. Many have been working tirelessly all day, usually only leaving their computers to eat, shower, and go to the bathroom. By doing this, are they protecting their well-being? No. Are they happy? No. Are they staying calm and keeping our stress levels low? Not even a little.
As a physical education teacher on a “normal day”, I am constantly moving around and teaching. With distance learning, I am having to adapt to doing my teaching online via Google Classroom, recording/editing videos, responding to students, and emailing parents, etc. There is little to no self-care present. The result? Massive tension headaches. I have gone to the chiropractor, I have taken pain pills, I have used glasses to reduce eye-strain, I have iced and heated my neck. This all happened because I didn’t take care of MYSELF. I am being reactive regarding self-care when I should have been proactive. In this case, I needed to be more “selfish”.
Teacher and curriculum designer Kristina Scully shared this picture with many tips teachers can do to improve “self-care”. I appreciate all of the suggestions. I particularly like the “positive self-talk”, “going for a walk”, and “treat yourself”. Implementing these into my daily routine has helped diminish my headaches. I began to work smarter, not harder.
The Twitter handle @WeAreTeachers shared this next picture. This quote resonated with me and I’m sure many others: “Am I celebrating what I HAVE done?” We mustn’t compare ourselves to other teachers. Many times, we get caught up in thinking we are not doing enough because we see another teacher doing “more”. I need to keep reminding myself that I have already done enough. I need to celebrate what my students and I have accomplished and be done for the day. My students don’t need “more”, especially right now. Sometimes we are so busy planning and worrying about what we need to do, we do not take the time to listen to what students really need. Another question to consider: “Are we doing too much?” Students need us to celebrate their accomplishments and connect with them – they also need to be heard. Sometimes less is more.
After the last several weeks, it makes more sense to me why flight attendants tell us to put our masks on first. If there is a stressful time during the flight and I run out of oxygen, I won’t be able to assist those around me. In the case of distance learning, it’s fine to be a bit selfish. Blogger Katie Reed said, “Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.” If we aren’t taking care of ourselves, how in the world are we supposed to be taking care of our families and students?