February sucks. We all know it.
It’s one of the hardest months of teaching. The kids are all tired and sick with cabin fever, and all of us teachers are approaching mid-year burnout–that is, if we aren’t already there. It’s hard to give yourself a break at this point in the year, too. Many of you are likely just finished with grade reports or preparing for high-stakes standardized assessments in the coming months.
And while those things are important, nothing is more important than being kind to yourself, especially at this time of year. Here are a couple of suggestions for how to do that.
Leave your work at school.
It’s tempting to take your work home, and many of you would probably even deem it necessary to do so. But bringing your work home with you only takes away the space you need in your life for you. If you leave no space for yourself, you are no good to your kids, your team, or your school. The to-do list will never end, but your time with loved ones, family, and friends will. The fate of your students does not rest on you losing sleep over ungraded assessments or an imperfect lesson. Give yourself a break, and do it tomorrow.
Laugh with your kids.
When we get stressed, the humor and the joy seem to be the first things to go. At least that is what generally happens for me. My kids usually beat me back to the classroom after lunch, as I’m usually tailing the end of the line, moving my stragglers along. Almost every day, when I get in the classroom, I see them sitting on the carpet, facing my easel, residual chatter from lunch filling the room with laughter and enthusiasm. We all know time is limited, and my instinct is generally to get to business. But one day, something changed, and I made the not-so-brave decision to laugh along with them for a minute or two. It made a huge difference in my attitude and demeanor, and I like to think it paid off in other ways, bringing us closer together while blowing off some steam.
Start a mindfulness practice in class.
Sure, mindfulness has benefits for your kids, but it’s also good for you. While I use mindfulness and meditation to help my kids grow in self-awareness and regulate during the day, I find it’s a good break for me, too. When I’m leading the class in mindful breathing, I take time to process my own thoughts and give myself some space to–both literally and figuratively–take a few deep breaths. You may not feel like you have the time, but I’ve come to realize that mindfulness and meditation need no more than a minute of your time, especially if done regularly. It’s good for you, and it will refocus your children during a transition or when they need a reminder to follow classroom expectations.
Ask your team for help.
I’m terrible at this. I hate asking for help, but I find that when I don’t, I become overly exhausted and irritable. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is admit you’re not Superwoman, Superman, or Superperson. The humility and vulnerability of admitting you need help not only takes some of the load off your shoulders. Vulnerability is a path to connection with those around you. We connect meaningfully in moments where we show our flaws and weaknesses. Doing so may be therapeutic for you, but it may also bring you closer together with your team.
Remind yourself that you’re doing your best.
Even on your worst day, when nothing goes the way you plan, when you’re not prepared, or even when you’re short with your kids, remember that we are all human, and that those around you know that, too. It is expected for us to be imperfect, and it is expected for us to make mistakes. Respond to that day where you felt like you let others down by saying “I was wrong”, “I’m sorry”, or even just a simple “Thank you”, and it will make a world of difference, especially if those words are directed towards your students. While they may not be aware of it, seeing an adults vulnerability is humbling and powerful. It models self-compassion and resilience, which so many of our students need to see in adults.
Most importantly, remember that everyone is doing their best with the resources they have, especially in these late winter months. Kindness sprouts from within and grows outwards exponentially. Having compassion for yourself will lead you to have that compassion for others, too.
And that’s certainly something that all of us need a little more of.