Self-Care Strategies for Teachers

Most teachers wouldn’t be surprised to learn that teacher burnout is at an all-time high...

self care strategies for teachers

Between the stressors that we face in the classroom and in our everyday life, educators report having too little time for self-care. In addition, new research shows that teachers face twice as much stress as other professions.

Prioritizing yourself is as vital as ever. With just a few minutes a day, you can participate in some easy self-care activities that will relax and recharge you when the profession feels stressful.

Why Educators Should Take Care of Themselves

So many teachers feel pressure to work ridiculous hours to keep up with grading and work in new ways to support students. Then, they hold themselves up to unrealistic standards by comparing themselves to other educators they know. New teachers may be the most susceptible to this, but even seasoned ones feel the pressure, too.

The truth is this: teaching is one of the most challenging jobs in the world, but when good teachers feel like they’re failing at it, they often respond by putting even more pressure on themselves. They justify this pressure with thoughts that it’s “for the students.” Usually, that means they’re ignoring their mental health and well-being. They spend less time on hobbies or loved ones. They burn out more quickly, weakening their physical and emotional well-being. As a result, their students’ education suffers.

By taking some steps to prioritize themselves, teachers will make a more significant impact on their students in the long run.

5 Self-Care Activities for Educators

One of the wisest things I’ve ever heard about self-care is that as your stress increases, so does your need for self-care.

It can be so easy to forget self-care practices during the school day, so you should try to schedule time for them throughout your week.

Here are five ideas for adding rejuvenating activities to your day:

  1. Try getting up 20 or 30 minutes earlier to do something for yourself--meditating, drinking coffee in peace, reading a good book, yoga, journaling--anything that gets you calm and centered for the day.
  2. Add something non-teaching-related to your life. Don’t forget that you have an identity outside of being a teacher. Embrace your hobbies and passions, which may have been tossed aside because you’re busy with work. Schedule an hour or two each weekend in which you craft, exercise, write poetry, or even take a class in something new just for fun.
  3. Exercise. You don’t have to train for a marathon or join a team, but just 20 minutes of walking daily can help decrease anxiety and increase your energy. Find something you’re comfortable doing and commit to doing it at least four times a week.
  4. Keep a gratitude journal. Take five minutes each day after school to write down one good thing that happened that day. It may be hard to think of something on tough days. However, I’ve found that I can usually think of moments that have made me smile. When you’re feeling particularly stressed, look at the journal to remind yourself of the little victories you’ve had in the classroom.
  5. Wind down each night with something relaxing. Use a free meditation app or read before bed. Go to bed at a reasonable hour and set aside quiet time without TV or scrolling through social media.

In addition to these tips, teachers should be aware of the signs of teacher burnout and look out for them. If you’re feeling physically or emotionally exhausted or like you’re losing your passion for teaching, you might benefit from developing a self-care plan.

Related resource: 10 Golden Rules for Managing Your Mental Health and Avoiding Teacher Burnout

By engaging in these self-care tips, you can ensure that you are at your best when your students need you the most. However, you must also learn how to balance your needs and your student’s needs to avoid compassion fatigue.

"Prioritizing yourself is as vital as ever."

How to Avoid Compassion Fatigue

Simply put, compassion fatigue is that feeling you get when you’re emotionally and physically exhausted due to putting your all towards helping others. Unfortunately, it happens to many dedicated teachers because they neglect to set healthy boundaries on their time.

When I was student teaching, I would spend hours on each lesson plan. I was required to write long, detailed plans to turn in to my university. Luckily, I had lots of support from my cooperating teacher, who even helped me with things like grading homework when he wasn’t supposed to, so that made up for some of my lost time.

After subbing for a school year, I started my career as a high school English teacher. Suddenly, I was swamped with grading essays, filling out paperwork for the special education teacher, and designing a curriculum from scratch. I soon realized that I needed a way to reduce my planning time. So I came up with two questions to help me each time I sat down to plan a class:

  • What do the kids need to understand by the end of this period/week/unit?
  • What would be the easiest way to teach that?

Of course, sometimes I still needed to think on my toes and adjust things during class, but at least I had more time each day for rest and relaxation as a result of simplifying my process.

It’s natural to think that if you take time for yourself, you aren’t putting your full effort into helping your students. However, the opposite is true. As the old saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Promoting Self-Care in the Classroom

One of the best things you can do to benefit your students is to promote self-care in the classroom. When your learners see you model good habits, they learn that it’s ok to create a work-life balance.

You may teach your students about a growth mindset, but do you practice it yourself? It’s not just a buzzword in education right now; it’s also a valuable life skill.

You can begin thinking in a growth mindset by remembering these three things:

  • You are allowed to grow.
  • You are allowed to make mistakes.
  • You are already improving.

Encourage your students to remember these things about themselves too!

Another thing you can do to model good self-care is to set healthy boundaries regarding when students and parents can contact you outside of the school day. For example, don’t check your email on weekends or after a particular time each evening. Let your students know that you are there to help them but that you have a life and interests outside of school. Learning how to say no can be challenging for many people in the helping professions, but once you realize the benefits, you’ll wonder why you were reluctant to do it in the first place.

Finally, you may want to consider integrating some small mindfulness exercises into your class’s routine, like deep breathing exercises before a big test or during especially stressful moments in class. Again, your students will benefit from the opportunity to address their emotional health in small ways.

"Devoting just a few minutes of your time now can ensure that your mental health is at its best later."

The Benefits of Teacher Self-Care

As I said, teachers who participate in a self-care routine can significantly delay or prevent burnout. Their overall mental health tends to be better, too, so they are more focused during the school day. In addition, they have more energy to support their students because they sleep better.
When teachers set boundaries with their time, they have more time to spend with their family members. They have a sense of who they are outside of being a teacher, which helps prevent compassion fatigue. It truly is a win-win situation for educators and learners.

Reflect and Reward Yourself

Take a little time each week to reflect on how your self-care routine is working for you. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments as needed. Devoting just a few minutes of your time now can ensure that your mental health is at its best later.

Also, take time to check in and celebrate how far you’ve come in planning, grading, relationship-building, classroom management, and every other skill this profession requires of us. Teaching is not an easy job!

Finally, don’t forget to give yourself a small reward for a job well done. Whether that’s taking yourself out for a coffee, enjoying a bubble bath, or purchasing a new book, you deserve to pamper yourself every once in a while!

For more tips to help yourself manage stress, sign up for our new Self-Care Newsletter.

About the author

Crystalee Calderwood


About Crystalee

Crystalee Calderwood (B.A., MFA, M.Ed.) has 20 years of teaching experience, having worked in a variety of settings, primarily as a high-school English and ESL teacher.… Read more

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