Teaching can be stressful and exhausting—we all know this to be true. Too often, we find ourselves completely depleted at the end of the school year, and yet, many of us have conditioned ourselves to ignore our own needs to care for our students, schools, and family. To avoid burnout though, it is imperative we create opportunities to care for ourselves and commit to them, even if for short periods a few times a week. Starting a new self-care habit over the summer is a great way to establish it and carry it throughout the school year. Here are some ideas for self-care; perhaps one or more sounds like something you can commit to:
During the summer, it is important to take some time to detach and unplug. While ideally there would be several hours or even days when you can be unplugged from all devices, even spending an hour or two away can be a great way to recharge, relax your eyes, and take some time to connect with your family or take some time for yourself. Even turning your phone off at a certain time each night and not turning it on until the morning can make a big difference.
It is easy to start feeling isolated and disconnected from loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Take some time to stay connected, by phone, video chat, or in person. And have some fun with it! Meet for birthdays, themed meetings, trivia nights, happy hours, or whatever it takes to encourage spending time together. It is so important to connect and cultivate relationships.
Even in the summer, the lists of things that need to get done can be overwhelming. My attitude toward my many lists (and lists of lists) changed drastically after taking Angela Watson’s 40-Hour Work Week course. Now, I pick the single most important thing to do each day. The rest can wait. Schedule the things on your to-do list for a day. For example, when I have a task I need to work on, whether it is to write a blog post, create a lesson plan, or set up a meeting, I pick the day and time as soon as I receive it and put in on my calendar. Then, this one actionable item becomes the focus for that day.
Take some time to read a good book—it is a wonderful way to escape and learn. I always start the summer with an ambitious reading list, and while I never get to every book on my list, it is nice to take some time to read. Audiobooks are another good option if your eyes are too tired at the end of the day or if you want to catch up on your reading while on the go. Local libraries have broad selections of audiobooks to borrow, so you can often listen for free. If you don't know what to read or listen to, ask friends for recommendations.
Something that can be challenging over the summer is finding time to practice the language you teach, especially if you are not speaking that language at home or have people to talk to in that language. I have been actively seeking opportunities to speak Latin, including teaching Latin phrases to my children (Nolite tangere, “don’t touch,” is heard frequently). When possible, choose activities that immerse you in the target language—speak with friends, watch movies or television shows, listen to podcasts, music, and audiobooks, or participate in a language club remotely or in person.
If you have time, take a class! There are abundant virtual classes these days, which means it is easier to access a diverse range from home. Take time to learn something you are interested in, like cooking, yoga, or whatever suits your fancy. I decided to take a Spanish class geared towards Latin teachers offered by the amazing Slocum Bailey. After twenty years away from taking Spanish classes, I was amazed at how much came back and how much I retained from taking a class in the target language.
Even though it sounds easy, we all know it can be challenging to find time for self-care during these busy days. It is important to put aside time so we can do something good for ourselves each day, even if it is ten minutes of meditation (the Headspace App is free for K-12 educators), a thirty-minute walk, or an hour-long nap. Self-care is something that we do for ourselves to help us energize and be our best selves.
For some people, a great way to recharge is to get creative juices flowing. That could be as simple as coloring in a picture (which can be very relaxing), drawing, writing, or cooking something fun. For some of us, this might be creating new materials for our classes. As we engage in creation, we can focus our minds on the specific task in front of us, which allows our minds to relax.
As we consider our school year next year, it is important to take some time to reflect on our experiences this year. What activities, assessments, and assignments worked well? What worked for our students? What was challenging? These questions and others are important to reflect upon as we start our school year, so we can be better prepared for whatever challenges we might face.
Even giving yourself 20 minutes a day throughout your summer to participate in one or more of these activities will help you recharge, so you can go into the fall ready for whatever challenges come your way. Choose which works for you, build the activities into your schedule, and enjoy your "you" time.