I liken the job of teaching to that of parent, in that it is a task that we invest our emotions as well as our time, and that means the job doesn’t finish when the students do.
I’m using this post today to remind teachers that although there is always a long list of things to do, it is vitally important that you take time to look after your own physical and mental health. Because, let’s face it, you are the most important resource in the classroom.
This is not so easy, I know. Teachers are busy, and getting busier. For most of us, the smallest amount of our time is dedicated to the actual act of teaching or even marking and reporting. We spend time looking for resources, considering learning activities, networking with other teachers and reading professional materials to develop engaging lessons. We undertake an increaing amount of paperwork. We liaise with parents and allied professionals, and then we might be up all night worrying about the wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable students or what to do about our most challenging students. We are required to be on top of pedagogical trends, educational research, new technologies, and the latest curriculum reform.
A not uncommon day in a schools might involve a staff meeting in the morning, teaching all day, following up on students and playground duty during breaks, and then at the end of the day inputting risk assessments for tomorrow’s activity (which is hardly risky) into an out-dated and clunky software system. So, by the time the work day ends there hasn’t even been a thought of eating or using the bathroom. For those in tertiary education, there is intense competition and a ‘publish or perish’ culture that means you might be sitting at screens every moment of the day that isn’t dedicated to all the other things expected of you. Regardless of the setting, language teachers in particular have the extra task of advocating for the importance and relevance of our subject area, and for many that is an uphill battle.
Several weeks ago I turned on my computer to do some work on a Sunday morning (when I should have been taking a break), and the vision in my right eye was suddenly and greatly impaired. To the point that when I told my husband, I couldn’t even see him. Although my left eye was normal, my eyes hadn’t yet readjusted, and I was left dizzy and bewildered as my vision in that eye completely shut down. Losing your vision so quickly and suddenly is a scary thing to experience.
The next few days were busy at eye specialists who conducted a range of tests, and it took a few days to rule out anything serious. What I have is a hemhorrage on my macula, so while my eye looks normal from anyone looking at me, the scan shows a big red splotch of blood in an area of my eye that is responsible for central vision. This was attributed to stress (psychological, as well as physical stress on my eyes).
I’m now taking blood thinning medication that hopefully will help clear the bleeding enough to see the source of the problem and this will tell the doctors what the next course of action will be. While it took some weeks, my eyes and brain have adjusted and I am able to see quite well relying on one eye. In the best case scenario I will have a course of medication or surgery that will result in complete restoration of vision. The worst case, there won’t be any further action that can be taken because of the risk to my eye. There was a real concern that it might have been cancer so when that was ruled out I had no desire to complain either way.
So, that’s my story, which will explain my absence from this blog for the past few months, and my desire to write this post. I’d like to use this opportunity to gather some practical advice from our members on how to look after ourselves. Of course, we know on a logical level what to do to look after our bodies and minds, but given the realities of our jobs, I would like to ask what tips you have for other teachers. Maybe you have a recipe for a healthy lunch item that can be eaten on the run? Maybe you have some warm ups to keep your voice from straining? Perhaps you have some ideas for making sure you get to the bathroom regularly (strange I know, but bladder problems are prevalent in the teaching profession because we tend to hold on all day!). Or do you have some strategies for how to ‘tune out’ from work when you get home?
OVER TO YOU …
*Have you experienced any occupational health problems?
*What do you think are the biggest risks to teachers’ health and wellbeing?
*How do you make time in your schedule to look after yourself?
*What are your practical tips for other teachers (see the last paragraph for Qs)?
Add to the discussion in the comments below,
or in our Facebook comments.