George Lucas Educational Foundation
New Teachers

Back to School Stress: Establishing Good Habits

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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.

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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.