Wellness for Teachers: The Most Important Resolution You Can Make

  • “Stay positive,” the aspirations begin.

    “Spice up your classroom routine. Build fitness into your curriculum. Get your work/life balance in order. Give individual time and attention to students. Plan your move up the pay scale.” These are a few of the dozen New Year’s Resolutions for teachers proposed by TeachHub, a popular site for all things education. All good thoughts, but we have another one: Take the time to take care of you.

    A classroom can only be as healthy and happy as its teacher. And when the hours are long, the compensation lower than it should be, the turnover higher than it should be, and the responsibilities increasing, it can be hard to stay dedicated to the cause.

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    “Educators feel as if they must always do more and try harder, making it easy to lose themselves in the mission,” writes the Association of American Educators. “This striving leads to an unsustainable pace, and it’s easy for educators to become burned out. This is why one of the most important things an educator can do is take care of themselves. Self-care is not a ‘nice to have’ goal for when you have time to pursue it. For a classroom teacher, it is the foundation that allows a teacher to give their students the focus and energy they deserve.”

    Sure, you say. Easy to say, hard to do. I am already way too busy to add things to my schedule just for me.

    But what if your career depends on it?

    The statistics aren’t easy to read, according to an article in Psychology Today: about 15 percent of teachers (an estimated 500,000) leave the job every year; more than 40 percent leave within five years of starting; and more than 66 percent of the teachers deemed “the nation’s best” ultimately leave for other careers. Much of the responsibility for this lies within the profession itself and society at large; the results of budget cuts, higher numbers of at-risk students and increasing dependence on test scores. It can sometimes feel like all of it comes to rest squarely on teachers’ shoulders. And that can lead to debilitating stress.

    Self-care doesn’t increase budgets, reduce demands on your time or change your school’s priorities. But what if the right kind and amount of self-care could really help in the classroom?

    “Whether you’re in the classroom or are a school administrator, I want you to stay healthy and stay sane,” writes educator Cassandra Washington in her book, Teach and Take Time for You: Strategies and Tips to Reduce Stress and Burnout. “I don’t want you to lose your mind due to stress, go postal or burnout. Too many excellent educators burnout and leave the profession. When great educators leave the school system, wisdom walks out the door.”

    “The school systems of this country need you and your wisdom to stay a bit longer. Children and parents need you to make a difference in their lives. Now it is time to take a personal journey…” and reduce the stress that ultimately could affect your career – not to mention your health.

    Still, there’s the aspect of time – when there’s just not enough of it. So, what if you could learn self-care for teachers and earn continuing education credits while doing so?

    Dominican University Online is trying to make it easier to do with two online classes, “Be good to yourself as you develop and model a healthy lifestyle,” says the course overview for EDUO 9533, Health and Wellness for the Educator. “Deepen your understanding of a healthy diet, exercise and stress-management strategies.”

    By learning about nutrition – including the benefits of fruits, vegetables, grains, and spices, and the harmful effects of sugar, salt, fat, and processed foods – a teacher can propel herself or himself toward better health in the course of one semester. Assignments also focus on the effects of daily exercise, the importance of social wellness, and how health and wellness can be implemented in the classroom. Participants in the class will create and follow a 30-day plan for themselves, and then another plan for their students.

    And in EDUO 9054, Implementing Self-Care for Educators, students take a look at the big picture, researching self-care for educators (and how it affects teacher retention and job satisfaction and decreases teacher burnout). Participants then create and implement plans for themselves that follow information found in the research, log their efforts, and reflect on the experience. Hours engaging in self-care are counted toward the total number of credits earned for the course.

    So what does all that mean? Basically, that you can earn credit while creating and implementing a plan for self-care that might make a real difference for you – and your classroom – in the long run.

    (Also, in the spirit of the new year, Dominican Online University is offering 15 percent off either of these courses if you register in January and enter the promo code 15%SelfCareGift.)

    “The school systems of this country need you and your wisdom to stay a bit longer” Washington writes. “Children and parents need you to make a difference in their lives. Now it is time to take a personal journey…” and reduce the stress that ultimately could affect your career – not to mention your health