Summer Break Self-Care: Getting the Most Out of Your Time Off

Get the most out of school holidays, utilizing time off to focus on wellness with this advice on holiday self-care from veteran teacher and self-care expert, Erin Sponaugle.

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Self-Care During Time Off

Carrying a Heavy Load

Quite possibly only one memory eclipses that of your first classroom as a teacher - that of your first “teacher bag.” 

I remember mine vividly. It was sturdy, canvas, and had my initials emblazoned on the front in dark green. Most importantly, it was huge, like Santa’s sack on Christmas Eve. It could hold teacher manuals, papers to grade, pens, my plan book - basically, my entire teacherdom could be swooped up and plopped in the back seat of my tiny car. That bag went home with me every night, every weekend, and every break from school. Whenever I had a spare moment, I was working, pulling some from my super sack. 

I rarely took a break - until I broke. 

Boundaries and Burnout

As a new teacher and even as someone respected in the teaching profession years later, leaving the classroom completely behind, even for a weekend, seemed unacceptable. I was beleaguered with what I refer to as The Big Three: Martyr Mentality, Busy Badge, and Superhero Syndrome. I felt it my mission to give as much of myself to teaching as possible. I proudly went above and beyond - way beyond. No task was impossible - and admiring comments such as “You’re Super Teacher!” fueled me to do more, and more…and more. 

While on the surface I appeared dedicated, I often felt wracked with guilt and anxiety at the thought of doing a smidge less. I worried about not doing enough, even though my body and soul were crying for a time-out. When I was tired, I just kept going. I had little time to think about my interests and goals outside of teaching, because I sat firmly in my seat on the carousel of school, terrified of stepping off. 

It took a tear-soaked Wednesday evening before Spring Break six years ago, coming face-to-face with the reality of burnout, to begin using time off from school to address the other areas of my life that were dusty with neglect. I won’t tell you it was a magic fix because it wasn’t. It took some soul-searching and mindset shifting (and an infinite amount of willpower not to bring my teacher bag home), but slowly I began to create balance and boundaries. 

Rest and Refocus

I began using breaks to recharge and focus, and in return, I regained my health and relationships. Perhaps most importantly I realized there were many teachers that needed to know how vital it is to their well-being to use breaks from school to attend to the interests and people that inspired their motivation to begin teaching in the first place.

If you think of our obligations in quadrants - home, health, school, and self - you can visualize the balance you need between all the aspects and expectations in your life. With time devoted to each, you can be more attentive to the people and purposes that make up the fabric of who you are in the classroom. And if there’s anything more our students need other than dedicated teachers, it’s teachers who can impart an example of how to live a balanced and purposeful life.

Happy Holidays

This summer, choose to take a break - not because you don’t love teaching, but because you love yourself enough to attend to the other aspects of your life that complete you as a human being. Self-care is more than a buzzword infiltrating the feeds of Instagram and Twitter - it’s the choices you make to give adequate attention to your home, health, and self. If the teaching profession is going to regain any ground lost from the pandemic, it will start with teachers standing firm in their resolve to make teaching a more sustainable practice through the act of taking their time off. 

So go make some plans. Turn off the apps. And if your bag is heavy, set it down… in the trunk of your car - and leave it there for a while.

By Erin Sponaugle |

Erin Sponaugle is an art teacher, author/illustrator, and educator wellness creator from West Virginia. She helps teachers save time and reach students while prioritizing self-care and well-being. 

Find this article useful? Watch Erin's on-demand webinar Changing Mindsets About How Teachers Use Time Off for more holiday self-care ideas.


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