I have a few friends who begin their very first years of teaching this fall. This letter is written for them, but it’s really for all of us.
Dear first-year teacher,
It’s fine. It’s all going to be fine.
But this year will be physically, emotionally, and spiritually strenuous.
You have one thing that your students can’t get anywhere else: you. It’s challenging, overwhelming, and draining to be in a profession where your main offering is yourself. So, it’s critical to take care of that asset!
It’s time to establish a routine of exquisite self-care to nourish and sustain you through the next year and beyond.
First, let’s just try and get you through the first month.
As a teacher, in general, you earn less money than your peers who work in finance, law, or engineering. You might be tempted to believe that self-care is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. What is does take is time. This is the myth a voice in your mind will try and get you to believe- that you have no money AND no time. Not true. Take the time. It’s yours. Take it and use it to nourish yourself.
It’s time to start taking exquisite care of yourself.
It’s time to start taking exquisite care of yourself. Exquisite self-care is lavish, abundant, and fiercely protective. Go overboard on the amount of sleep you afford yourself. Don’t sign up for any committees or to moderate any clubs or coach any teams you don’t absolutely have to.
At every opportunity, take care of yourself the way you would a very best friend or precious relative. This person is working really, really hard, and she needs someone to protect her free time, her sleep time, and her ‘me time.’ You are that someone. You must be fierce.
Be your own agent
Sometimes, it helps me to think of myself as a seriously protective talent agent. And I am my own client.
“I’m sorry. Ms Woods isn’t available for that project; she’ll be taking a bath.”
“I’m sorry. Ms Woods isn’t available right now; she’s on her evening walk.”
“I’m sorry. Ms. Woods is not available for meetings until 8:00 a.m. and she stops checking email at 5:00 p.m.”
Basic # 1: Sleep
If you don’t sleep, you will not last as a teacher. Absolutely no one will congratulate you for staying up past your bedtime to grade a stack of worksheets or plan a new lesson. They just won’t.
Get yourself on a schedule that makes space for you to get 8 hours of sleep a night- at least. Try out some wind-down activities and see what works for you. Cup of hot tea, journaling, reading a book, face washing – you know you can’t look at a phone before falling asleep, right? Fierce.
Write down your “wake up” hour and work backwards. 8 hours. Be your own fierce agent.
Basic # 2: Eat
Now we’re on to nourishing yourself. With food.
I now know why apples are stereotypically a gift for teachers: you can eat them on the move, they travel well, and they’re pretty tasty. Buy yourself some yummy apples. Throw one in your bag every morning. That way, when it’s 9:37 a.m. and your first class ends and your next class starts at 9:50 (across campus) and you have to pee and you’re thirsty and starving, you won’t be completely out of luck.
Plan out your meals, including cooking time. Go grocery shopping on the weekends so your fridge is stocked for the week- breakfast, lunch, dinner. If this seems too intimidating, try the same simple breakfast every day and a few dinner recipes that can go to work with you the next day as lunch.
Basic #3: Body Movement
Ok- sleep, food, now body movement. Please don’t start a rigorous physical training program exactly when you start teaching. But do make sure you’re getting some physical movement every day that doesn’t involve carrying a giant plastic milk crate of teaching supplies up and down stairs. Plot it on your schedule- a 20-minute morning walk, a 30-minute evening stroll…whatever is realistic. You probably won’t do it every day, but if you didn’t do it yesterday, then you need to do it today.
Basic #4: Nourish Your Spirit
Now that your body is ready for this enormously challenging task, let’s tend to your spirit. Your students will likely illuminate things about your personality that you might rather keep in the dark. Like your impatience with students, your prejudice about a certain group or type of kid, or your tendency to burst into tears when a parent yells at you. It’s going to happen. And it feels like crap.
I recommend writing down a page today that you can read on those days when you start scrolling Craigslist for a job with better pay, better benefits, and less time in a small room with 30 people under age 18.
In this page, write about what calls you to this work; why do you want to be a teacher? Your own voice may be the only one you’re willing to hear when you have one of those days (or weeks).
On the back of the page, write a list of activities that bring you back to life. Here’s some to inspire you: listening to music, playing a game, journaling, talking with a receptive listener, writing a letter, creating something, meditation, prayer, watching a movie, baking… you get the idea.
Also, get curious about what really *does* bring you to life after a rough class, a brutal day, a long week. Does the glass of wine really do it? Or does your heart need to vent with a friend? Or do you need to be alone? What works? Be curious, note it, and add it to the list.
When those spirit-smushing days come, you’ll be ready. And you’ll be able to rely on Basics 1-3 to help re-ground you in the present moment.
Rinse and repeat.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’re in this for the long haul. When you notice yourself feeling off-track, return to these four basics. They will not solve every problem, but they’ll help you keep your self, which is the most valuable gift you can offer your students.
Continue the conversation on Instagram
Join in on Instagram this week with our #spiritualpracticeoftheweek as we put these basic into action each day this week.