Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Importance of Self-Care in Teaching

Watching the students, the rhythms of the school-year become obvious, and even predictable over time.  Mid-to-late November, I have learned, is a time when viruses start to spread, energy is low and stress is high.  Given this, it is especially important for the teacher to remain positive, encouraging and generally well.

We're not immune to the pressures of the calendar, of course, and self-care is crucial.  I speak as one who has not done a good job of this in the past.  Often, by late October or early November, I get sick.  I fall behind on prep and grading, and even though I would recover from whatever bug I had, I'd find myself even more exhausted and stressed than I had been while I was sick.  There were a few years where I basically needed to drag myself, step by step, to Christmas vacation.  

Unfortunately, when that's the case, my energy in the classroom completely evaporates.  I can't even inspire myself, much less a class full of tired students.  It's a miserable feeling to slump in my desk-chair, wishing I was at home sleeping, as the students work sluggishly on some half-baked task.  I've been there, and I never want to go back.

This year, I am still going strong as November comes to an end.  I'm starting to feel a little weary and my neck has been stiff and sore for about a week, but I'm not stressed, nor am I completely "out of gas" (as I have been at this point and even much earlier in past years).  

While I'm sure that growing as a teacher makes at least some difference, I attribute this change largely to marriage.  Getting married has taught me to take self-care more seriously.  

I realized when I got married that my time was no longer my own, and that to make the most of the time spent with my wife, I would need to be more economical with my schedule.  I've made time for cooking dinner.  I've made time for unwinding after the school-day.  I've made time for blogging.  I've made time for finishing whatever prep and grading I need to do.  Everything has its place.  This did mean sacrifice.  Last year, I was busy with:
Tuesday night Japanese Class at City Hall
Thursday night Community Group in Yurakucho
1st Saturday/month Gospel Choir in Meguro
2-3 Sundays/month Worship Team at Grace City (sometimes involving an early morning rehearsal in Meguro)
...and all of this was on top of my responsibilities at school, taking a Master's course, trying to plan our wedding, and still spend quality (non-planning) time together.

I gave up each of those things this year--Japanese class, Community Group, Gospel Choir and Worship Team.  It was difficult to let them go, but it was the right decision and the result has been a sustainable schedule that has enabled me to be a better teacher and a better husband.  

The rhythm of this year is about right for me: I'll cherish the long weekend coming up.  I'll return to school next Monday energized and ready to take on the last little sprint before Christmas break.  I hope I'll be an encouragement to students who might be feeling overwhelmed or exhausted.

I hope that I can continue to develop strategies to care for my own health, sanity, and schedule as the year goes on!

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