Care for the Teacher Is Care for the Student: Healthy Routines that Support Your Work

by Paul Harrison Hannah Johnson

You take your calling seriously, so you give your time and energy to serving the people under your care. But what if you run out of time and energy? What if you’re not properly caring for yourself? Paul walks us through areas in which teachers, pastors, and parents should pay attention. He describes his own morning routine, his strategy for decompressing at the end of the day, and his rationale for maintaining hobbies. What habits can you adopt to increase your wellness—and your ability to serve?

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We can be really busy teaching and think that our students are important. We can think they’re the most important. We neglect some of our own self-care. That can be in a lot of different ways: your health, having some hobbies, having friends, family, being connected in your church.

If you’re teaching in a different location than you grew up, sometimes that’s extra hard because you don’t always know a lot of people or you’re in a new church for a little while. I think it’s important to develop those relationships with people in the community and people in the church early, just as part of taking care of yourself so that you don’t get so absorbed in your schoolwork that you never develop those, and then you’re lost for a long time.

Hobbies: I think they’re important—to have hobbies that are outside of the teaching circle just to give yourself some downtime. Develop some hobbies and schedule some time to do those. It’s not selfish to ignore your teaching stuff to take care of some hobby because it can make you better at your teaching craft because you’re not over-stressed or overworked or worn out when it comes to putting energy into your teaching stuff.

Self-care starts early in the day, I think. Michael Hyatt talks about morning routines in some of his stuff. I have developed a morning routine. I look at it as part of my self-care. I stumble out in the morning, I get the coffee started, and then I sit on the chair for a little bit while it brews. I get my coaster ready. If it’s in the wintertime, I have an afghan that I get ready and my books and my Bible. Then I get my cup of coffee and then I take a few sips. That’s getting my morning started. It’s like momentum, getting the ball rolling.

It’s in the habit that I have. I do some reading in a Bible reading plan, do a little time praying and then I have some time where I just read about tech or news or some other book that I’m interested in.

It sounds like, “How do you get up so early to do that?” It starts with that beginning routine. I know what I’m going to do the first thing and so when I get up it just happens. It’s just that time and it ends up being anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour. There’s some calming about it, but I’m still getting things started.

Then it’s off to the races. I’m married, I have some children, so it’s getting the children up and having breakfast and driving over to school.

To start something like that, some people are like, “I could never do that.” Focus on starting the habit. You can write down what you want your morning routine to be and then just start working on that habit. After a bit, it becomes a habit and it’s a good routine to be in. You’re able to start doing some things that are profitable and getting the ball rolling for the day.

Unplugging and going home, it’s hard for me. It takes some intentionality. One thing that makes it really hard is I only have about a quarter of a mile home. It’s not long enough to close off and change gears and get my mind off of what happened at school.

Some teachers, they get to school early and they do lots of stuff in the morning and then they leave right after school. I tend to get here about 15 minutes before I need to be here. We have a staff devotions at quarter of eight and so I try to be here at 7:30. Then I’ll stay till 4:30 or 5:00. I’ve got an hour, hour and a half where I’m basically in my office and there aren’t really many people around, at least for the last hour. That helps with that changing gears. I do take some stuff home, but I try not to take too much stuff home. That way it’s not there in my mind: “Oh, yeah. Go back to my office and do this or do that.”

Health is an important thing. Proper sleep, proper nutrition. Caffeine addictions are probably pretty prevalent in teachers’ lives. I go to the Faith Builders Administrators Retreat. One of the first times we were at this one location, the people there at the retreat center said that there’s one group that drinks more coffee than these Mennonite administrators. That was the AA group. The Alcoholics Anonymous. Let’s not become addicts to our caffeine products, I suppose because it disrupts a lot of things in just taking care of yourself.

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  • These are very important ideas and well worth implementing. Part of long-term success is taking care of one’s own physical and emotional needs. Building rhythms into our lives is part of that. Paul’s ideas here are very helpful.