The hustle and bustle lifestyle of teaching impacts all of us throughout the school year. By the time the holidays roll around, our lives have fallen out of balance, and we’re just trying to keep up. Grading, parent conferences, lesson planning, observations, and classroom prep consume our time, and we feel completely overwhelmed. To compensate, we sacrifice the very things in our life that help us to be highly effective teachers. It is my goal to give you four simple steps to help you become a better you! (By the way, this article is a self reflection piece that serves as an important reminder to me. Perhaps it will help you too...).
1. Take Care of Yourself
Let’s just admit out loud that there aren’t enough hours in the day. We can all easily work from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, and never get through the list of never-ending tasks. All work and no downtime is a quick way to burn out or get sick. Our health is important not only to us, but our students. Schedule and allow yourself to decompress (relax with music, take a power nap, connect with a friend) at least 30 minutes a day. This will allow you to recharge and be more productive with the remaining hours of your day.
Sleep is inextricably linked to performance on every level. I’m a night owl, and use the evening hours to get my work done and catch up on my shows after the kids are in bed. I would usually grade and lesson plan until midnight and plan for the next practice or meet for at least another hour… or two. I would wake at 6 and do it again. In an average month, I accumulated 60 hours of sleep debt. Data shows that the body’s ability to function declines if sleep isn’t in the 7-8 hour range, and sleep debt cannot be overcome in a single weekend of rest. The fewer hours we sleep a night, the less productive we’ll be with our students the next day, and this can progress over time with accumulated sleep debt. Get sleep even if the list isn’t complete!
Taking time to exercise isn’t being selfish; it’s an investment in your long term health. Time and time again, studies have demonstrated lower risk of cancer, heart disease, and even dementia in those who exercise. The Mayo Clinic recommends about 20 minutes a day or 30 minutes, five days a week. Go outside! Get in a hike, run, or bike ride. If you can’t get outside, then utilize equipment your school has for aerobic exercise. You’ll feel better and be less stressed, not to mention your body will thank you for staying more physically fit.
Finally, consider increasing your water intake. Our bodies absorb 1 cup of water per hour. Staying hydrated promotes cardiovascular health, increased energy and brain function, helps joints and muscles function correctly, cleanses your body, and will maximize physical performance so you can keep up with your busy schedule.
2. Take Moments in between Classes to Self-Reflect
As teachers, we’re constantly trying new things in our classrooms. Some activities or methods work and some don’t. Self-reflection allows us to think about what went well, what didn’t go well, and what you would do differently in the future. I generally write little notes in my lesson plans so that when I revisit the topic the following year, I’m reminded of the feedback. This alleviates stress each time I teach the topic. Small tweaks to a lesson plan can make all the difference with your students.
3. Be Encouraging to Your Students
Speak kindly, for yours may be the only words of encouragement your student hears that day. As teachers, we have confidence because we know the material. Students need to feel like they have a chance at success in order to perform well. We need to create a low stress environment that praises good behavior, hard work, and high success. If you praise more than you reprimand, your student’s confidence will grow, and you’ll see better results at the end of the year.
4. It’s Okay to Ask for Help… and Use Resources Wisely
It’s so difficult to keep balance without help. If you have a challenging student, whether behavioral or special needs, speak to a guidance counselor, a mentor, or a teacher assistant in your school to see if they can dedicate time to help.
Flip the script: have some of your stronger students teach the ones who need help. I always tell my students that if you can effectively teach the material to another student then you have true mastery. The weaker students will get stronger and the strong students will become masters (and discover the joy of teaching!)
You don’t have to do all the prep work by yourself. When lesson planning, or looking for new high quality material, don’t reinvent the wheel! Use social media groups like APES Unleashed or National APES teachers for ideas and activities, or use Jordan Dischinger-Smedes’ YouTube material to compliment your class. Try our case studies and laboratory manual that we carefully designed to cover the entire APES curriculum. If you aren’t teaching AP, our materials are just as effective for a non-AP environmental science classroom. This allows for greater in-class creativity and engagement because you won’t spend all of your time developing content from scratch. Check out the 2021-2022 APES Playbook for more ideas.
Teachers are amazing! Reclaiming a couple hours of our day for sleep, exercise, and relaxation will make us better teachers. Healthy habits, a positive attitude, and the humility to ask for help will lead us to success. These are words of wisdom that I constantly need reminding of and hopefully some of them resonate with you too!