Healthy Tips for Educators

I’ve often struggled with my health, particularly during stressful times. I also noticed that the least healthy periods of my life occurred when I was starting or changing jobs. At the beginning of my teaching career, I was in what I considered a healthy spot, but I quickly resorted to eating poorly, giving up exercise and not taking care of my mental well-being. This pattern followed me in all my subsequent job changes. The positive outcome of realizing this pattern? With some healthier habits, asking for help and keeping myself in check, I could get back to a place that was both healthier for me and beneficial for those in my charge.

Below are five tips to keep your health in check during your teaching career.

lunches and snacks packed in plastic containers

1. Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

Teaching and leading extracurriculars or coaching is demanding. Without a solid plan for meals, exercise and mental health, it’s easy to fall into unhealthy habits.

Meal prep and fast-food options: I couldn’t always afford to live in the town where I taught, so I often had long drives to and from school. Meal prepping became a lifesaver, particularly with my long commute and after-school rehearsals. The convenience of having a healthy meal ready meant I was less tempted by fast food (and it was easier on my wallet). However, when things were stressful and being so far from home, I didn’t have the option to turn around if I forgot my lunch. So, I made sure to create a list of menu items from local restaurants and fast-food chains as a “just-in-case.” For me, this consisted of Jimmy John’s Unwiches or high-protein, low-carb meals. This little emergency plan helped me avoid dietary pitfalls and maintain my energy levels throughout the day.

Ask for help: I also helped myself by looking at my schedule each week and determining whether I could actually get all my work done. If not, I did the toughest thing I could imagine: I asked for help. Students, music parents, friends, etc., were always willing to help as long as I was clear with my requests. This had the added benefit of building some positive connections. This planning kept me from scrambling at the end of the week.

close up of person taking a pill and holding a glass of water

2. Finish Your Medicine!

I had a position once where administrative issues were consistent. During this stressful time, I contacted my school’s employee assistance program and scheduled some therapy sessions. Just when I thought I was “fixed,” I would stop only to be in the same boat a few weeks later. I learned that following through, and maybe even going to a few extra sessions than I thought I needed, helped me truly understand the ebb and flow of my stress, anxiety and mental health. So, when you think you’re on top of things, stay the course just a little bit longer. And, a little routine maintenance every once in a while never hurt anyone.

woman holding up hand with a sticky note with an X on it

3. Establish Boundaries and Stick to Them

I’ve experimented with setting boundaries and found a lot of different things. Sometimes I was public with my boundaries, which allowed others to support me, but there were some people who wanted to test me to see if I really meant it. Other times, I kept my boundaries private, which was easier at times because I didn’t have to explain myself. Yet, some people wanted to dig in to find out why I was making a certain choice when it came to my time. You will find out what works for you at your specific time in life and school.

My first boundary was based on that phrase that some of us heard growing up: “The bell doesn’t release you; I release you!” I was never a fan of this, as this wasn’t how scheduling worked for me. My desire to finish the “perfect phrase” is not more important than a kid getting stressed out about being late to the next class. So, I started setting a boundary of only working during my scheduled contract time or specific scheduled times for my stipend/extracurricular work.

Try this: Make rules and schedules and stick with them for a week. You may be surprised at how efficient you can be. Or, you may be surprised to find that there are some items that just don’t get done and can wait until the next day or even the next week. I always rushed to answer emails from my administrators to show them how good of a communicator I was. I then realized that the good administrators understood that my job was teaching, which always came first. If I responded to them in 24 hours, or even if I sent an email that stated, “I’ve seen this message and I’ll respond tomorrow,” it was always understood.

hour glass with red sand

4. Too Much, Too Soon

Would you rather succeed at one item or fail at three? If you are attempting change, chances are it’s much harder to handle multiple items. As teachers, we believe we can do it all! However, we don’t want to get burned out, and becoming disappointed or stressed can have a negative snowball effect.

During my first year of teaching, I had a goal of being healthier and I did not meet this goal. I focused on three main goals: lose weight, gain strength and change my eating habits. Those are three substantial goals! As you can imagine, I lasted maybe a week before failing at all three.

Consider gradual change. “I will take a walk outside or on a treadmill for 10 minutes per day for 20 days.” That’s it! It may not seem like a lot but imagine the state of mind you’ll be in on day 20. I would bet that you would then be in a stronger position to add “eat one healthy meal per day for 10 days.” And so on.

woman pointing finger

5. Go Away!

You can’t miss something if you’re always there. My schedule left little time to relax at home because I was often at school. I found some balance in stepping away from school during breaks, either driving to a quiet spot or taking a walk. Other times, I took a day or two each month to schedule some coffee visits with friends or phone calls with mentors during the time in between school and a rehearsal. These times took some effort to set up, but I found myself a little more recharged after I stepped away from my classroom. It’s easy to get excited about teaching and all the possibilities, but we have to take action to protect our passion from burning out.

The Takeaway

Our health is important, but taking care of ourselves is a time-consuming task, and it can be especially stressful when we feel like we have to do so much work. Many health issues don’t happen overnight, and the same can be said for improvement. With some planning, patience and perseverance, we can be in a healthier place for ourselves and those in our charge.

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