Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Your Own Oxygen

Are you going crazy?

I feel like this is the downhill slide toward summer, with a HUGE jump over the testing seasons.

This is the time of year when teachers start taking “mental health” days and kids are mentally checking out and test hype rises to extreme levels of silliness and we all feel stressed.

Checklist time!
  • Are you mentally spending more time planning your summer than planning for tomorrow’s class?
  • Are you wondering if you’re taking too many mental health days?
  • Are your students mentally “checking out”?
  • Has your school’s test hype risen to unprecedented levels of silliness?
  • Is your stack of notebooks and or papers to grade so large you have considered taking a day off to grade them?
  • Have you written more referrals in the past week than you wrote all of first semester?
  • Are you keeping a countdown to summer on your board already?

Hello. And welcome to the Fourth Quarter.

I joke about some of the above, but really, I’m completely serious.

This is the time of year when teachers need to examine their own mental well being.

I read recently that “it is impossible to support the social and emotional health of young people if we as teachers do not attend to our own emotional health.” (Nick Haisman-Smith).

Just like flight attendants advise flyers to secure their own oxygen masks before securing the oxygen masks on their children, I would like you to recognize and secure  the  mental health at this time of year so you can help support the mental health of your children (or teenagers) in your classes.

I know that you have enormous workloads, increased accountability, challenging student behavior, ongoing policy changes and sometimes unhealthy school or departmental cultures.

Teachers report poor physical and mental health as a result of their work -- and this impacts their students. Research has shown that teacher wellbeing not only affects student test scores but has an effect on student social and emotional well-being. This can really hurt the learning environment and the relationship between teachers and students (Haisman-Smith)

This problem is bigger than individual teachers. It is certainly bigger than social studies and it is bigger than your school.

Please know that I am not an expert. I do too much and stress myself out, too. I have honestly taken the aforementioned “day off” to catch up on grading myself (and more than once).

But I can make a few small suggestions.
  1. EAP: If you think you can use it, please call the EAP (Employee Assistance Program). They are really helpful. I can personally attest to that!
  2. Effect on Students: Teachers, please be aware of the impact of your mental and emotional health on the well-being of your students. It’s hard to see that connection sometimes, but is definitely there. Look around your school, at the way students talk about you and your colleagues and you can begin to see this.
  3. Your own oxygen: Do what you need to do to relieve stress (preferably in a healthy way). Don’t grade every piece of paper. Go for a walk or a run. Practice mindfulness. Go to your religious organization. Veg out. Don’t neglect yourself!  
  4. Each other: Take care of each other. A school works best when the teachers work together and have each other’s backs. If you can cover for a colleague so he or she can get themselves together, then that colleague can return the favor. If you can just listen to a colleague, you can do wonders! And everyone feels a little less lonely, less isolated, and more supported.

I know this is a crazy time of year that makes us all feel more stressed. Be intentional and don’t feel guilty for taking time for yourself.

Seriously. Attend to your own oxygen mask before you secure the mask of another.

Seriously. Attend to your mental and emotional health so you can support the mental and emotional health of your students.

Seriously. Take care of yourself. Summer is coming.

Thoughts, ideas, comments? As always, email me at

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