Teaching is one of, if not the most revolutionary act that a person can undertake. But the cost of being an educator is heavy, especially on one’s mental health. Educators are not only responsible for teaching, but uplifting, leading, mentoring, coaching, and so many other things. So when we talk about mental health, and the importance of mental health, it becomes even more of a priority as an educator.
We already know about the invisible tax that Black educators pay, along with all of the other professional burdens that are a part of the job. But what mostly goes unsaid is the lack of prioritization of the mental well-being of educators in general, but Black educators specifically. Sure, there are some really amazing administrators out there who ensure their teachers feel supported and “loved,” but that isn’t always the norm. So it’s increasingly important for us as educators to do what we need to do to make sure that we’re good.
With that in mind, I want to cover a few important things that you can implement to ensure that you show up as your best self each and every day. As we head into the holiday/winter break, look to implement some of these changes to make sure that you’re staying on point and balancing life and work!
Everyone talks about time management, but I want to add a unique spin to it. Yes, I understand that there are times that grading will necessitate bringing work home, or lesson planning, or some other aspect of teaching. But, that doesn’t mean that you have to do it every time.
Maximize your prep periods (audit how you are using these planning periods), stay on top of your deadlines, and make sure that you’re leveraging your scheduling abilities. When you stay ahead, you are able to enjoy your valuable personal time and make it your own.
Here are some helpful tools that you can use to organize your time, and make sure that you continue to keep on track so that your personal time remains your own:
- Toodledo: This is a free app that helps to keep your life and school deliverables organized and in one place. You can thank me later.
- StayFocusd: It’s OK to admit that you aren’t able to multitask like a master, neither am I. To that end, apps like “StayFocusd” will help you to limit your screen time on social media, or any other sites that may keep you from maximizing your time.
- Evernote: This is another free app that you can use to organize yourself and your documents. Are you someone who takes notes in a bunch of different places? Do you tend to have post-it notes everywhere? Then Evernote is the app for you! Use this app to take all of your paper and organize it in one digital location.
This is important for all aspects of our lives, but with work, it’s just as important if not even more so. Yes, we love our students, and we love the work that we do. But that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy to always be on call. There are times when an emergency supersedes our need for personal space, but not every situation is an emergency. Being able to create boundaries with our colleagues, students, and families will create a better life/work balance, and will also help you prioritize your mental health.
To make sure that you’re able to set boundaries, and feel confident in doing so, here are a few tips that can help you begin that journey today:
- Prioritize non-negotiable break times: This is a BIG one because it’s important for you to make time for yourself, even when you’re in the school building. Segment off time daily, whether it be a half an hour, or less, that is just for you.
- Specify a specific time for parent communication: Let parents know what time they can expect to hear from you, and unless it’s an emergency, stick to communicating with them during those times. Yes, I know this is easier said than done. Things come up during the day that require you to communicate with parents, but I’m not talking about the one-off conversations. Whatever you choose, you need to make it a routine in order to protect your time and boundaries.
- Creating student boundaries: This may seem self-explanatory but in reality it needs to be said. It’s important that you create clear boundaries for your students (and you) to follow. Some boundaries include physical boundaries (they shouldn’t be entering your space unless given permission), emotional boundaries (not playing favorites, not bringing too much of your personal life into your classroom), and communication boundaries (not giving out your personal number or email, not following students on social media) to name a few.
- No means no: So many times we want to take on extra roles and responsibilities to show that we’re trustworthy. Other times they’re given to you because your school is short staffed, or for other reasons outside of your control. No matter the reason for it, you have to learn to say “No,” and you have to mean it. Too many times a strong teacher is strapped with extra work, and out of feeling a duty to be a “team player,” go right along with it. This is the easiest way to see your life/work balance erode away, and to find yourself overworked and feeling underappreciated. Sometimes you can’t say no, but stop feeling obligated to be a superhuman when your own mental health is at stake.
- Ask for help – Asking for help, and learning how to delegate are integral parts of being able to better manage your own mental health. The art of asking for help is about being honest with yourself. You can’t do everything, and that’s okay! What you aren’t good at, someone specializes in, and vice versa. Ask your colleague that’s a math rockstar to help you with your lesson plan, or ask your friend that’s super organized to help get your ducks in a row. But it’s also about reciprocation, what skills you have you should offer (when you have time available to help) so that you can lessen the burden on someone else. It’s a team game. And this is how you build community and trust with the people that you work with!
The moral of the story is that your mental health is your responsibility and if you don’t put yourself first no one will. That doesn’t mean being selfish, that means being aware. Get organized, block off your personal time, set and enforce boundaries, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
These are only a few of the steps to take to get yourself where you need to be, but our students, families, and communities need you to show up as your best self daily, and you can’t do that if you don’t make the time.
Don’t wait for tomorrow. Don’t wait for the new year. Start the work today!