I was able to attend (read: stream) a two-day Teacher Self-Care conference in mid-January. Communications from the conference planner indicated that hundreds of educators had registered. In some of the breakout sessions I attended, there was representation from around the world, like India, Canada, Germany, and then of course others from all across the United States. The various presenters shared openly and honestly from their lives, offering their classroom experience over many years. It was inspiring to hear their stories of how they’ve overcome the stress and exhaustion associated with the education profession. Many of them have started blogs or podcasts to impart their “lessons learned” or “tips and tricks” to those like them. You could sense the camaraderie and desire to support themselves and one another, while also being dedicated to their chosen career of educating future generations.
However, throughout the presentations, I was acutely aware that as several speakers shared their stories there was a recurring theme. These few educators had to go through extremely challenging health complications before they began to really focus on their own self-care. Two of them mentioned being required to take doctor ordered medical leaves. A couple others talked about having no other choice but to leave the profession they LOVED, in order to protect their health and well-being.
As the conference concluded, I logged off feeling many different emotions. Besides feeling inspired and impressed by the focus on self-care, I was further motivated to continue my endeavor to support educators and their well-being. I walked away contemplative, thinking “Why does it have to be so hard? Why does being a teacher have to be so stressful? It shouldn’t be like this”. Someone shouldn’t have to have a near-death experience or require a leave of absence to feel the freedom to focus on their health. I can understand someone who is on a battlefield every day, but classrooms and schools shouldn’t be war zones. They should be safe havens, places of support, inclusion and positivity.
I am aware that these monthly blogs won’t change the education system (wouldn’t it be nice if that was all it took?!). I am clear that there is much work and reform to be done to ensure our learning environments are all they need to be for staff and students alike. But I have hope that my blogs and dedication to elevate this issue, along with many other peoples’ work around this topic too, can at least begin to create a small shift.
We have to realize our worth, not just what we contribute in a classroom or work setting but who we are as people. There may be occasions when those around us attempt to undermine our values, question our integrity, overstep our boundaries, and/or misinterpret our intentions. That can be painful and distracting from the good we seek to enact. Perhaps an administrator doesn’t recognize the extra effort required teaching virtually or in a hybrid setting. (I imagine that administrator is overworked as well). That weighs heavily. Furthermore, chances are high that you have some students who are not as engaged this school year and you worry about them. That weighs heavily too. Then, if you are anything like me, you may be holding yourself to an extremely high expectation of performance that is probably not realistic for our current circumstances (or even during “normal” times). That’s an extra burden! It is important to resist the negative effect any one or combination of those things can have, remembering who you are, that you matter, your health matters.
How can we continue to rise above the fray and prioritize ourselves? I think it’s three quick things; know your truth, stick to it and surround yourself with supporters. Remember who you are and what you stand for. Hold on to those values. Be empowered to protect and provide for yourself. Then identify who in your life are the truth tellers, but also your cheerleaders? These are the people that not only have your back, but they have your heart. They can be honest with you while also encouraging you simultaneously. We all need people who can offer us both things, opportunities to better ourselves along with the recognition of the good we bring to the world. I’m not sure if the conference presenters had people in their lives asking them to step back, to take care of themselves and they just didn’t heed the warnings. But what I am sure about is I am asking that of you (and me). Let’s remember our value and take care of ourselves. Like a dear colleague of mine says, “We are doing our pandemic best”.