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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Back to School Stress: Establishing Good Habits

While other people make resolutions in January, most teachers make their resolutions in September. I will not fall behind my grading. I will not get as stressed out as I did last year. I will not eat an entire package of Chips Ahoy! in one sitting. With all your attention on teaching, it's important to make sure your personal life is set up to withstand the additional stress. Establishing a few good habits now will help you avoid slipping into a destructive cycle that will leave you burned out by spring.

Create Boundaries

Teaching is a demanding profession, one that will drain every ounce of your energy and still want more. The only way to stay balanced is to understand and accept that no matter how much you do, there will always be more work -- more correcting, more planning, more emailing, more attending meetings, more "volunteering" for after-school activities. Stretching yourself too thin is a recipe for burnout, so establish a few guidelines that will guard your sanity.

Designate Saturday or Sunday as a work-free zone. Spend your time however you want, as long as it isn't related to work. Catch up on TV shows or go out with family, but just be vigilant about giving the day your complete attention. Also select one day a week when you do only your contracted hours and leave your work at school.

Establish procedures for the workweek as well. No calls, emails, or paperwork past a certain time, say 8 PM. You have to give yourself time to decelerate from your professional obligations so that falling asleep is easy at bedtime. A 12-hour workday is more than long enough.

Exercise and Hobbies

Have you always wanted to try pottery or learn an instrument? It may seem as though you don't have enough hours in the day, but a new hobby can be energizing. The nonstop 180-day sleep-work-eat cycle can harm your mental and emotional health. Learning new skills will give you something positive to look forward to and reinvigorate your weekly routine. Hobbies help you to maintain a sense of self and remember life outside of the classroom. Double-up on quality time by inviting your friends or family to share in your hobby.

Meal Planning

Did you know that most teachers gain weight over the school year, some as much as 10-20 pounds? This fluctuation is usually due to stress and poor dietary choices, so make an effort to eat balanced, healthy meals. Picking breakfasts that contain a good mixture of protein, fiber and carbohydrates will prevent cravings for glazed crullers in the teachers' lounge and support your stamina until the first break.

Avoid heavy carbs and fat in cafeteria food by packing a lunch that won't leave you feeling sluggish and groggy. Quinoa salads are great warm or cold for the days that you can’t make it to the staff room, and it helps to have a stash of emergency soups and healthy microwave meals. Skipping meals can increase stress hormones and lead to serious binge eating, so plan ahead.

A slow cooker is a teacher's best friend. Prep, set and forget. After a long day, a home-cooked meal awaits. Baked in the South features a full month's worth of crockpot meals that you can batch up on the weekend, freeze and heat as needed. Southern food blogger Rhiannon includes the full shopping lists. When there's no time to shop, My Fridge Food will help you whip together a tasty meal with whatever ingredients you have on hand. Just identify items in your pantry, and they'll design something delicious.

Technology to Help with Productivity

Below, I've listed and described a few tools and apps to streamline the rest of your professional life.

  • Dropbox is cloud storage, meaning you can access information from your smartphone or any web-enabled computer. There's no need to keep carry worksheets on USB flash drives any more.
  • Evernote is a desktop and mobile program that lets you clip tidbits of information from all around the web. This tool is great for storing assorted information in multiple formats, from AVI (video) to WinZip (compressed files).
  • WorkFlowy is the best flowchart tool that I have ever used. The app's online storage provides access from anywhere and enables sharing or collaborating with others.
  • Focus@will features music that aids concentration, based the work of UCLA neuroscientists and thousands of testers. The creators claim they can increase a person’s focus by 400 percent.

Back to school will always be stressful, but following some of the tips described in this blog will enhance your health and productivity. Remember, before you take care of others, take care of yourself.

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The Dixie Diarist's picture
The Dixie Diarist
Teacher, Writer, and Artist

Brood and ruin your mood. I finally got smart and learned that too-many cigars, brooding, and pondering for way too long every evening at home, was not the way to take the edge off what a teacher experiences. It was not the way to refresh. It's exercise--open-mouth breathing, sweat-spewing, body-changing exercise.

That's what ultimately does it. I started training for marathons and ran in a bunch of marathons and half-marathons and in those hard-core, military style obstacle course races, hoping not to get burned alive, electrocuted, or drown in creeks, lakes, or pools of mud or ice water. I boxed at the local Police Athletic League and got kicked around, but while I changed my body and teacher's mind for the better. Some of my students caught on and asked why in the heck would I subject myself to all that. I never told them the real truth. But I did let them punch me in my stomach as hard as they wanted and anytime they wanted.

You can know your subject and teach it like an expert, but if you want to impress young scholars, let them punch you in the gut and enjoy the satisfaction of being their teacher-hero in the most unconventional way. This used to drive Lurlene crazy and she told me to stop but I never did. Old Burrell thought it was brilliant. At his old school, six or seven hundred years ago, he said he used to kick kids out of class by dragging them into the hall while they were still in their desks. That was back in the good ol' days, he said, and parents thanked him for it.

Gut check. I got in trouble with Lurlene for something else, too, among one or two million other things. If a guy got in trouble in class, instead of kicking him out, I had him do twenty push-ups. Some of these kids were pretty good athletes and they would call my bluff. They'd pop off a quick twenty, and then crank their head up and look me right in the eye and ask for twenty more. One of these guys popped me in the gut one day, too. I kept it together for as long as I could, while I think I was lecturing about Abraham Lincoln or somebody, and then excused myself and went to the teacher's bathroom to see if my liver had come out my navel. Actually, my left kidney came out my right ear.

This same fellow started hallucinating in class one day. He said there were black spiders all over the top of his desk. Everybody else in class craned their necks to see ... nothing. I told him he was free to trot up to the school nurse's office. He wouldn't do it. He said he was going to Marine it out. He did. Classes lasted nearly two hours at this school and he Marined it out. With the thumb and the index finger of his right hand he pinched the heads of about one hundred spiders. Then he was okay.

I'm not hallucinating. When you put in a few years in different grades and in different subjects and with different kids at different schools, you will finally come to the conclusion that you've seen and heard it all. But you forget something over and over and over: there's always the next class period.

www.actionjacksonart.com

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer
Staff

Thank you Erin for such a great post. Funny, I was just talking to a colleague last night about balance and prioritizing "human needs." I noticed yesterday that I sat for most of the day glued to the computer screen! My colleague showed me this cool app called "Balanced" - https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/balanced-get-more-out-of-life/id63086875.... You basically can set some daily goals like: take a walk, drink water, laugh, take an inspiring picture, watch a TED talk, etc. It'll give you reminders to do it and you can track how much of it you actually do.

PS: I also started using Workflowy -- will let you know how it goes!

MaryKat's picture
MaryKat
Currently: spec. ed in urban southeast MIchigan high school and upper ed.

Thanks for useful info.

MaryKat's picture
MaryKat
Currently: spec. ed in urban southeast MIchigan high school and upper ed.

I will pass this on to my colleagues.

Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educational Consultant/Author, Southern California

Wonder Woman? Superman? We only think we are. Teachers need to take care of themselves!

Lyla's picture

Thanks for the great post! It's hard not to constantly think of the classroom, but a teacher definitely needs to concentrate on other subjects after working hours. Some good habits I've established are to grade all work before going home, and to place my mission statement where I could see it daily. To keep from becoming a burnout teacher, I focus on the positive and talk about the stressful parts with fellow colleagues. I'm going to share this post with friends and colleagues, it has great advice!
Thanks.

Dorothy's picture

Thanks you Erin for your Blog. As a new teacher I need all the help I can get. I found your blog to do just that. Thanks again for your support and understanding.

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