Teaching is a selfless profession, no doubt, but let’s face facts. You’re only human. That stark and unblinking truth means teacher wellness takes critical damage with every new responsibility that gets thrown your way.
This is especially true in the break between semesters. That’s because this time often marks the point when teachers measure their progress. And, if you’re anything like many of the teachers we know, you sometimes evaluate yourself using a hyper-critical lens.
So, here are a couple of questions for you. What if you did the exact opposite? What if, instead of focusing on your pending obligations and self-criticisms, you shift toward improving your mental health instead? If you’re looking for a smooth and fruitful Spring semester, your teacher wellness should be number one on your to-do list.
Teacher Wellness, the Undefinable Necessity
The statistics surrounding teacher stress paint an alarming picture that illuminates the paramount and unquestionable importance of a purposeful and custom-tailored educator wellness regimen. And yet, as we stand between Fall and Spring semesters, new and heightening stressors often hit a crescendo, which may leave you feeling as if you’re not entitled to a break. Or any grace whatsoever.
It comes as no surprise that having this gig means you experience twice the number of burnout factors as other professions. In fact, 54% of teachers consider exiting the classroom every year. But despite how often our community throws the term around, teacher wellness may seem like a nebulous concept. After all, factoring in the range of our experiences and demands inside and outside of the classroom, how do you quantify the specifics of an educator’s mental health needs?
The truth is, pinpointing an exact and universal definition of teacher wellness is an arduous and perhaps fruitless task. There will never be a magic pill. But there is one undeniable reality about all teachers’ mental and emotional well-being: When you don’t regularly check in with your mental health, especially during pivotal moments in the school year, it’s easy to lose track of your crucial mission as an educator.
However, when you regularly check in on your teacher wellness, you can conduct your classroom in a way that consistently makes a positive impact for students. This is especially pertinent in the window between the Fall and Spring semesters.
Understanding What Teacher Wellness Means to You
We’re not going to attempt to create a definition of teacher wellness that somehow encompasses the needs of every single educator in the United States. Really, at this point, you’re probably sick of people telling you to get more sleep, avoid alcohol, eat healthy, cut sugar, and swallow a fistful of supplements every morning. But we do feel confident in saying that the time between semesters is especially draining for just about everyone, and that means understanding what steps you can take that will prove most effective.
To figure out what you need to make teacher wellness a reality before returning to school in January, ask yourself:
- What specific events at school impacted your mental health positively or negatively?
- What, if anything, happens outside of school that influences your well-being on the job?
- How can your Spring semester goals evolve to maximize not only your students’ learning, but also your mental health?
- Has teaching become a robotic routine? If so, what factors led to this monotony?
- Do you have a say in the kind of professional development you need to be at your best at the helm of the classroom?
- What new and unexpected responsibilities made your to-do list even longer? What can you delegate and what actually takes precedence?
- Are there any resources or structural supports you’ve been too proud to take advantage of?
- What do you have the power to change? What do you not have the power to change?
This is not an exhaustive list, of course. But if you spend time thinking about the causes of classroom turmoil, you find the recovery tools you need. The first step is finding out what teacher wellness means to you.
The Results of Enhanced Educator Wellness
As you head toward the Spring semester, how would you like these next months to look different?
While the specifics of teacher wellness programs need customization to be effective, the results of purposefully attending to your mental health are often similar. Multiple studies cite positive effects on teachers, students, and entire school ecosystems. Penn State and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation cite the following most common results.
Teachers feel less occupational stress and burnout. While every adult with a job deals with some form of stress, teachers tend to experience it with a fierce intensity. The pressure and magnitude of the job is enough, but that heavy responsibility often comes alongside multiplying and competing priorities, standards that evolve without notice, and scrutiny from administrators and parents. While some stressors will never relent, an appropriate and tailored focus on wellness helps you deflect the negative effects.
Teachers get more positive feedback from principal observations. There’s no hell quite like observation day. You know, the day your kids decide to mutiny and sabotage the fun, student-centric lesson plan you had planned to show off to your boss. With the appropriate teacher wellness tools in your pedagogical arsenal, you’re able to manage classrooms even on the most tumultuous and pivotal days.
Teachers experience greater empathy and forgiveness. There’s no shortage of criticism and toxicity out there. If we’re being honest, many of these emotional uppercuts come from within. Has the thought of giving yourself a little grace ever come to mind? Of course, it’s not only the inner voice. Quality educator wellness means your grace also extends to others.
Teachers improve their emotional regulation skills. You’re well aware of this, but it warrants repeating: You’re human and you have emotions that deserve to be let out in a healthy and productive way. And improved mental health means that you can do so in a way that empowers you.
Teachers report greater work–life balance. God forbid you go home and enjoy your life. Need we say more?