As many educators across North America are about to go on Winter break, I know that the holidays do not necessarily mean “no stress,” but for some, could be a different kind of stress.
The week before the break can be exhausting and John Spencer, recently wrote, “Ten Creative Alternatives to Showing Movies Before the Break,” that may give you some ideas before the end of the calendar year. Not only does he provide excellent ideas to stoke the wonder of your students before the break, but this little reminder:
Let’s just put it out there. December is exhausting for teachers. The days are shorter. The weather grows colder and (at least here in Oregon) wetter. Students are anxious — whether it’s a buzzing excitement for vacation or a sense of dread that some kids feel in homes that are unsafe during the holidays.
And teachers are tired. They’re tired of redirecting behaviors and tired of the mid-year pressure of the test and simply tired of the sheer energy it takes to be a teacher.
So to build on that, I want to give a few ideas of things to remind yourself before the break, that I have been working on personally.
- It’s okay to need a break. There is often a lot of “teacher guilt” that goes into the breaks. Many of the students that we serve in education see school as not just a place of learning, but one of the safest places in their lives. What you may be looking forward to, students may be dreading. That being said, students need their teachers at their best, and many people are like elastic bands; if you stretch them too much, eventually they could break. As teaching has become more complex, the mental health of educators has seemingly suffered (read this great piece from Dean Shareski, “When Will We Get Serious about Teacher Stress?“). Of course, you shouldn’t cheer daily in front of your students that you are finally getting some time for yourself, but I also don’t think that looking forward to recuperating is negative. Give it your all until the break, but then try to take a break, whatever that looks like to you.
- Learn to say no. This is a hard one for not just educators, but anyone. It is great to be helpful, but there are limits to what any person can do. I have found that if I say “yes” too often, that I am often saying “no” to myself and my family. You can’t be all things to all people, and having someone disappointed is much better than pushing yourself past a limit that you can’t come back from.
- Take care of yourself. This is something that I have struggled with tremendously. You work so hard and put your head down, and then all of a sudden, you seem like you have lost yourself. Lately, I have focused on scheduling time daily to workout hard and just have some time for myself to read. While people feel that it is hard to find that time as it takes away from other things, I have learned that taking this time not only gives me more energy, but the time spent with those I care about I am in a much better mood. I wouldn’t want to spend MORE time with someone that is miserable, but in some cases, that is what was happening to me. Find time to read, write, exercise, watch a series that you have missed, surround yourself with people that lift you up (this is an important one…see quote below as a nice reminder), or whatever fills your cup. Taking care of yourself will lead to better moments with others for an extended period of time.
If you look at the three ideas listed above, basically they can be summarized by “take care of yourself.” Although I know it is easier said than done, I think that educators are extremely giving of themselves, while also being their harshest critics. This will take a toll. We can quickly lose ourselves while helping others, which is good for no one.
(Please share any ideas or tips for people to help take care of themselves over the break in the comments. Thanks!)