I have never met a teacher who wanted to be mediocre or average. Without exception, teachers go into the education profession to be AMAZING and make a difference in young lives! Unfortunately, not all of them become amazing due to one or more of three factors: (1) they lack the capacity to be amazing (Luckily, there are very few of those around!); (2) they lack the commitment to be amazing (Fortunately, lack of commitment is not an issue for the vast majority of teachers!); or (3) they lack balance (Lack of balance is where most teachers fall short of AMAZING!). By lack of balance, I mean they do a great job taking care of school business, but they do a poor job of taking care of the “I business.” As a result, they never reach the amazing heights they are capable of achieving before they burn out or settle for a career of mediocre to good but not amazing.
To be an amazing teacher doesn’t take another expensive degree, more professional development, embedding new breakthrough teaching strategies into lessons, or the principal’s blessing. The secret to being AMAZING is for teachers to take care of themselves and maintain balance between their professional and personal lives! The short and simple is that amazing teachers not only take care of the children they teach, they take care of themselves as well. They are devoted and committed professionals, but they also have a life outside of teaching. To be amazing, teachers cannot neglect family, hobbies, other interests, or themselves. If they do, the weight of that neglect will bury them and swallow their professional and personal joy.
Like Sherlock Holmes who played the violin to recharge his batteries between cases or when he simply needed to relieve stress, teachers must also recharge their batteries regularly. The amazing teachers I have known were masters at recharging their batteries. They had interests or hobbies outside of teaching, or at the least, from time to time, they treated themselves to small pleasures to keep their professional and private lives in proper perspective. The greatest harm teachers can do to themselves, their families, and their students is to become consumed by teaching. Joy as a teacher cannot be sustained unless there is also joy outside teaching. When teaching replaces life, family, and all other interests, the very spirit that makes a teacher amazing is compromised.
When teaching becomes all-consuming, an imbalance is created that can lead to frustration, disillusionment, and resentment of work and sometimes even family. As a result, teachers begin to look for a way out; they become another casualty of the teacher exodus. The good news is that leaving the profession or settling for less than an amazing career does not have to happen. There are simple strategies teachers can use to reduce stress, redirect priorities, and bring back into focus what is most important in life. The only drawback is finding the time, the nerve, the courage, and sometimes even the desperation needed to recharge and reclaim the proper balance between professional and personal lives.
To stay amazing, and up to the daily challenges they face, teachers need to take care of themselves. They need to find or create ways to bring joy and control back into their lives, or if they are too “pooped” to be creative, they need to follow the suggestions listed in this article to help maintain or put balance back into their lives. To coin a phrase used way back in the sixties, teachers need to sometimes simply “let it all hang out!” After all, the ultimate goal is for teachers to be AMAZING, enjoy the AMAZING journey they have chosen as a career, and make an AMAZING difference in the lives of the students they teach, which, by the way, also includes their children at home.
A Teacher’s Guide to being AMAZING
Teachers should take one or more of these daily or at least weekly to recharge their batteries and ensure the proper balance in their lives:
- Marinate yourself daily in a guilty pleasure:
- Take a break from everything for at least thirty minutes each day. Lock yourself in the bathroom, bedroom, tool-shed, barn, or wherever you can be alone for at least thirty minutes;
- Relax with your favorite drink!
- Read something that is not news or school worthy! Read for pleasure!
- Take a walk by yourself and SING! LOUDLY! The birds won’t mind; your singing makes their voices sound sweeter;
- Get a dog! A dog doesn’t care if you had a good day or a bad day. He is always happy to see you, and he doesn’t care if you flubbed your evaluation, which you probably didn’t, or if you are at the top of the principal’s hit list, which you are probably not! In your dog’s eyes, you will always be the best regardless of what is going on in your world;
- Play music from when you were a teenager! Play it loud like you did at sixteen – feel good, bone rattling loud. Start dancing around the house until everyone joins in the fun, or thinking you have “lost it,” they rush out the door leaving you alone. Then enjoy the few minutes of solitude before the padded wagon comes to haul you away!
- Dance naked! But, send the kids next door or to grandma’s house first!
- Take a ‘simple break” and color in a coloring book;
- Write two thank you notes and mail (Do NOT email!) one to a friend and the other to yourself. The most neglected and important friend you have is yourself – don’t ignore YOU! A little self-love is needed for balance;
- Mail yourself a care package to your school! If you choose, share it with friends;
- When you get home from school, before you go into the house, draw a chalk hopscotch game in the driveway and play a game or two or three of hopscotch by yourself, with your kids, or even with your spouse. Relax! Exercise! Laugh! Have fun!
- Take a weekend unplanned road trip! Get in the car and drive! No plans, no nothing – just drive!
- Pack two bottles of wine, and go to an open field or park. Spread a blanket on the ground, lie back with a glass of wine, and look for shooting stars! They are much easier to find with the second bottle;
- Stay away from Facebook for a whole day! Let life be about you for a change and not everybody else!
- Lose your phone for a day! Your friends and family can call you with their problems, gossip, and requests for favors tomorrow. Take a break from always being there for everybody but you!
- Relieve the stress in your life and make yourself a priority by throwing away every piece of clothing you own except what you are wearing. If you are a woman, go binge shopping and enjoy buying everything new. Match and style to your heart’s content. If you are a man, go shopping by yourself (DO NOT let your wife go with you!), buy three cheap t-shirts and three pairs of cheap underwear that will develop comfortable breathable holes quickly, buy a couple of pairs of jeans, buy one pair of black dress slacks, buy one pair of khaki slacks, buy seven shirts all the same color, and one black tie. Mix and match to your heart’s content;
- Don’t take yourself so seriously! Teaching is a serious job, but not half as serious as the mental and physical health and well-being of you and your family. Before others get the chance, laugh at yourself. Give yourself permission to have fun both in and outside of the classroom.
- Teach your class standing on top of your desk or in some way equally as strange and unusual;
- Sing and dance the intro to your lesson;
- Smile! You DO NOT have to wait until Christmas to smile in your classroom! Amazing teachers smile and smile a lot – at school and at home!
- Take a beer bath! Spas in Austria and Germany claim a beer bath is the ultimate stress reliever, so relax in a bathtub full of warm beer. As a side benefit, bring a straw and leisurely sip the warm brew as you relax. A beer bath is the perfect solution to relaxing yourself inside and out;
- Go fishing without bait! Give the fish and yourself a break; don’t bait the hook, cast your line, and sit back and nap, read a book, or just enjoy nature;
- At least one day a week, put aside the lesson plans, grading papers, turn-off the television, turn off the phones, shut down the computers and spend quality time with your family. Play a board game! Go to a movie! Go out to eat! Visit a state park or museum! Re-connect with your family weekly!
- Find a hobby or join a group outside of education. Education is the greatest profession, but like all professions, it will use you until you are used up and then discard you. For most teachers, teaching is their life, but really amazing teachers also make it a point to have a life outside of teaching. AMAZING teachers find purpose outside of teaching as well as in teaching;
- Take a camping trip or rent a cabin at the lake. Go wading in a stream. Hike a trail. Build a campfire and make a Dutch oven peach cobbler. Sunday, morning, don’t go to church, but instead conduct your own private service next to a stream or by the lake. Listen to the birds sing praises; and
- Activate your dreams! Take time to brush off your personal dreams! If you have always dreamed of being a writer – WRITE! If you dream of playing a musical instrument – TAKE LESSONS! If you dream of traveling – PLAN A GETAWAY and GO! Teachers get so wrapped up in igniting and nurturing dreams in their students as well as helping their own children and even their spouse realize their dreams that they often forget about their personal dreams. AMAZING teachers have dreams also – turn yourself back on to those dreams!
Teachers are AMAZING even if sometimes, they and those around them fail to recognize it. As a society, we desperately need them to stay AMAZING! However, that is not likely to happen if teachers always relegate themselves to second place. Over time, second place grows weary and tiresome and can lead to depressive futility and loss of interest. Therefore, it is imperative for teachers to guard against such feelings that so often lead to “burn out.”
The point for all teachers to remember is that as a collective profession you are important, but you are just as important, if not more so, as an individual. Schools always preach the students come first and that is as it should be – AT SCHOOL! Outside of school, there is no rule that says life has to be about everybody else first and YOU second. If there is, YOU made the rule, so YOU can break the rule! As a teacher or as a husband/wife or mama/daddy, you will never maintain the energy to take care of everyone else unless you take care of yourself first. It is not complicated, but I can hear some teachers moaning and groaning already – this is all well and good, but finding time to do any of this is the problem. Between family, church, community activities, and work, I don’t have a minute to spare for myself. I understand, but to be blunt, if that is where you find yourself, you have no one to blame but yourself. People at home, at work, and in the community are needy and they will “need you up” if you let them. They will unintentionally suck every bit of the “amazing” out of you if you are not careful. It is up to you to periodically call “time out,” and give yourself permission to be slothful, impulsive, carefree, and even selfish for a few minutes each day or longer if necessary. To be the AMAZING teacher as well as the AMAZING mama/daddy or husband/wife you were meant to be and want to be, you must make yourself a priority at least equal to all other priorities in your life. Contrary to what teachers and the majority of people in their lives might think, there is absolutely nothing wrong with teachers sometimes putting themselves FIRST! After all, TEACHERS are AMAZING!
©Jack Linton, December 5, 2015