What I Wish I Had Known About Self-Care


Photo by Ulises Baga on Unsplash

The school board asked if you would be their first-grade teacher, and you said “yes”.  Congratulations!  An exciting journey lies before you.  Perhaps you always wanted to teach and now you finally have the opportunity.  Or maybe you never really considered the possibility, but when they asked, you wanted to try teaching because after all, you do love children.

First year teachers face a large learning curve.  You have so much to learn about lesson plans and schedules, grading, report cards and recess, classroom management, birthday parties, and the student who struggles in Math.  At some point, you may find your enthusiasm waning.  Feelings arise like, “Why did I ever think I could teach?”

I assure you that it will be okay.  You will have good days and bad days: days when you love your cherubs and days when you cannot wait to send them home.  Days when schedules seem slippery and the children argue at recess.  Days when first graders forget how to sound out words.

Being a teacher is rewarding and exhausting all at the same time.  When I stepped into the classroom the first day of that first year, I did not realize how important self-care is.  To face the challenges of the school day, one must be well prepared physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

What do I wish I had known?

The Importance of Spending Time with Jesus

Teacher, you will not teach well if you do not spend time at the feet of the Master Teacher.  He is the one sustaining you, giving you ideas on your feet, helping you teach that history class when you are not sure how you are going to pull it off, giving you patience with the student who cannot subtract, and wisdom for the child crying because his team lost a game.  Spend time in Jesus’ presence often and let Him love you.

The Importance of Sleep

Years ago, I read an article where the author suggested that teachers should get used to functioning on five hours of sleep at night.  Perhaps that author needed less sleep than I do, but young teacher, do not skimp on your sleep!  Five-hour nights will not sustain you over the long haul.  You will have more mental clarity and more grace to face the challenges when you are not so tired.  Seven to eight hours a night is probably not too much.  Some teachers may need nine and occasionally a few ten-hour nights a week.  Figure out what you need and then go to bed, even if your work is not completely finished.

The Importance of Good Food

If you are a young twenty year old living with your parents and mom cooks your supper every night, you are blessed!  Mom’s food is so comforting at the end of a long day and sometimes chatting with your family around the table may help the stressors of the day feel less stark.

As a busy teacher, it is an easy temptation to eat easy, quick food on the run.  Cereal and hot dogs, cheese sticks and granola bars, cupcakes and snack mix.  If you live alone, this can be especially tempting.  While there is a place for quick food, try not to make that your normal routine.  Getting enough protein into your diet will sustain you longer than easy calories.  Your brain is working hard to keep up with all the duties of teaching.  Feed your brain well!

The Importance of Hobbies and Exercise

“I could work all night and still not be prepared for tomorrow.” You may feel this often during your first years of teaching.  Yes, in many ways, a teacher’s job is never done.  However, schedule time for things you enjoy.  Play at least two games of volleyball.  Let yourself enjoy a sewing project or spend time in your garden.  Read for pleasure.  Take a hike or a picnic, or spend an hour discussing poetry with your friends. Use your watercolors and paints.  Drink that iced mocha at the coffee shop with your friends, even though your lesson plan isn’t quite finished for tomorrow.  Take a walk and enjoy the beauty of the sunset. A “nose-to-the-grindstone” mentality all the time will result in burnout.  Refresh yourself often. *

*Disclaimer: I speak these words for teachers who battle with perfectionism.  If you are of such personality that you can easily sacrifice your science class for an evening of spike ball,  then perhaps you need to spend only an hour playing spike ball (instead of two) and spend the second hour planning that science lesson and writing some goals for your Bible lesson tomorrow.

Will things always go as you planned?  Absolutely not.  You may experience a short night or oversleep or lack the time needed to prepare fully for the reading lesson.  Be gentle with yourself when you are tired, hungry, angry, or frustrated.  Jesus sustains the teacher who calls out to Him.  He is bigger than your sleepless night, your hastily crafted sticky note lesson plan, or your students’ low spelling scores.  You can trust Him to fill in the gaps when you have done your best.

Be proactive about self-care and trust Jesus.  He will help you navigate your school year successfully!


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