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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.

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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Ryan Celestain's picture
Ryan Celestain
Youth Motivational Speaker

Setting some personal goals when it is back to school time helps you remember to make time for the important things to keep YOU going and healthy! So that you then can teach your students at your fullest potential!

Krysten Maddox's picture

I really enjoyed this article, as student finishing up college I look at my peers and relatives already in the teaching field that stress and work all hours of the night on to make sure everything is ready for the next day. It is helpful to read that there are many little ways that are often overlooked that can be used to conquer the stress. I was also excited to see that I use some of the items you listed such as Dropbox to manage all my files use between my classes.

Danielle Jones's picture
Danielle Jones
Credential Student

Erin, I found your post to be very helpful! I am a first year credential student and I am working towards becoming my Elementary/Multiple Subjects Credential. Not only did I find these good habits to have for when I become a full-time teacher but, for my current full-time status in graduate school. I have actually used some of the technologies you have listed above, like Evernote, Dropbox and Workflowy to help my productivity in school. The good habits you listed above like, exercising, planning my meals and having a more structured schedule to maintain free time are habits I am trying to incorporate into my daily/monthly routine, in hopes that I can keep up the routine for when I become a full-time teacher! Thank you for sharing your suggestions! I found them very helpful!

Khadija's picture
High school French Teacher

I was reading a response to an article entitled 'The Myth of the Great Teacher''
Here is a comment made by high school English teacher in suburban Atlanta that I really enjoyed reading.
I am frustrated with the mythology of the "great teacher" who sacrifices his or her entire life for the kids. I tell new teachers all the time: Your job is not your life. Your job is your job. Your life is the God of your understanding, your family, your friends, your pets, your hobbies, your passions. Healthy, well-adjusted teachers fit teaching into their lives, not life into their teaching. How do you think the kids of these "super-teachers" feel when their parent says, "I can't do something with you because I'm doing something with my students?" I can't respect that.

Great teachers are teachers who show up every day when they are well. And stay home and nurture themselves when they're not well. Great teachers are those who do their best for their students every day by trying new things, keeping up with trends, teaching old materials in new ways, getting and giving feedback, and staying relentlessly positive. Great teachers let their kids be who they are but also push them to be better. Great teachers know their kids' names and know them well enough to pick up the fact that something might be wrong in a kid's life. And they act on that.

Great teachers are unbowed in the face of entrenched bureaucracy. Although they become weary, they do not give in to the cynicism that infects the mediocre teachers around them. They see the true sacredness of their job--making a difference in the life of a child. And that difference is different for every kid.

Erin Osborne's picture
Erin Osborne
Education writer

Glad it could help! Teaching is such a selfless profession most people put the needs of others before themselves. I'm sure you'll be set if you make a concerted effort to avoid burn out!

Erin Osborne's picture
Erin Osborne
Education writer

Thank you, Lyla! Getting a support network with other teachers and supportive people is a huge help.

Ashley's picture

Thank you for this article Erin. As I pursue a teaching profession I have been finding for myself that some days I just need a break from thinking about school and work. I arranged my Saturday so that I would have nothing urgent to work on and had to remind myself to keep my mind off what I had to do for the next week. We need to learn how to take care of our physical/emotional needs to be able to function our best in our work life. Thank you for the reminder!

D. Pierce's picture
D. Pierce
Business Teacher from Virginia

I'm a pre-service teacher and will soon be graduating with the hope of starting my teaching career very soon. I've connected with many teachers during the last two years of working towards a Master's in Education and majority of them complain about the demands of teaching not giving them much of a personal life at all. I believe this profession is only for those who are truly passionate about children and learning and have exceptional skills in organizing and prioritizing. Your post was very helpful by providing tips in balancing work and life as I begin to push forward in my teaching career, I will definitely utilize some the tips you have provided to ease the demands of becoming a new teacher.
Thanks Again,

Alexandra Byrne's picture
Alexandra Byrne
Biology Teacher in the Making!!


This Blog was so helpful! I am a student teaching working towards my Master's. The workload has been very overwhelming; it is hard to find time for myself. I have found that I am tired and sometimes irritable. Recently, I have started painting wine glasses and running. Running and painting give me the piece of mine that I need. I am such a more enthusiastic teacher; I can really tell the difference. Thank you for your help!

Erin Osborne's picture
Erin Osborne
Education writer

Thank you for your kind words, Alexandra! I'm glad the article has helped you out. Between student teaching and your own school work, I'm sure you're spread pretty thin. Be kind to yourself!

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