Public School Teaching is Stressful.
There has always been a special place in my heart for teachers. My parents both taught in public schools, and my first career was in education. Those teachers who influenced my own life held a love for their subject matter and carried the best interests of their students close to heart. However, I sensed early in my teaching career that there is something counter-intuitive about attempting to teach students with diverse needs when their interests, time schedules, and learning resources are all subject to arbitrary demands of state and federal administrators. After all, these administrators hold no personal stake in the long-term well being of either individual students or individual teachers. By holding teachers and students accountable to politically motivated special interests, administrators impose rules and regulations that demotivate students, inhibit the learning process, and create levels of stress that can impact both teachers nor and students in negative ways. The experience of Finnish educator, Kristiina Chartouni, teaching for the first time in the United States, was described in the Atlantic in 2016. Her statements quoted therein sum up the reality American teachers live on a daily basis. She is reported to have described her US teaching experience saying, “I have been very tired—more tired and confused than I have ever been in my life,” then adding, “If you asked me now, my answer would be that most likely I would not continue in this career.”
Chartouni is not alone in her plans to exit the profession. A recent study by the Learning Policy Institute suggests low teacher supply and high levels of attrition are contributing to a growing teacher shortages. Yet one can still find talented teachers who continue in the profession simply because they believe there is a value to influencing the next generation.
For those teachers who choose to remain in the profession, it is important to remember that your value to yourself and to the students you serve diminishes when stress levels are allowed to build. Learning to seize limited opportunities for personal restoration will be critical to long term success.
Smart Teachers Use Summer Time for Self Development
An important sanctuary teachers still retain is their summer vacation! My advice to my teachers in the trenches is to preserve this time for themselves. June, July, and August offer weeks with which to relax and enjoy those real life experiences that renew physical and mental health. Believe it or not, these experiences will also enrich the lessons teachers share with students in the year ahead. Reserving summer calendars for recreational needs allows teachers to remain more enthusiastic about the challenging roles they’ve accepted.
Leaders like the late millionaire and author, Earl Shoaff have long promoted the concept that professional success will never outpace personal development. Teachers who invest in themselves are likely to outperform those who jump to meet district demands year round. Not surprisingly, so will their students! In the section that follows, I offer five strategies teachers can use this summer to ensure that the next school year finds them rested, fit, healthy, inspired, and motivated to succeed against incredible odds.
Five Ways For Teachers to Make the Most of Summer
1. Get Outdoors. Most teachers spend way too much time in the classroom. Indoor environments with their recirculated air and artificial lighting are simply toxic. Use your summer to visit national parks, try out a kayak, search for Forest Fenn’s treasure, or create an adventure of your own. The first hand experiences you enjoy, and the people you meet on these outings will become resources that make your teaching of any subject more relevant and memorable for students.
2. Plant a Victory Garden. Gardening will not only get you outdoors, it will also improve your access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food. What better way to recharge your batteries than providing your body with locally grown, pesticide-free produce that is good for you and your microbiome? In the 21st Century, we’ve seen a resurgence of Victory Gardens similar to those that provided our grandparents with fresh produce in the World War eras. Farm to Table and School Garden movements are also accelerating as communities recognize the institutional foods we are serving in our lunch lines is condemning our children to substandard nutrition. Note that while children may spend 12 or 13 years eating food in the cafeteria, our teachers are spending their entire working lives in an environment where food choices are quite limited. Most teacher workloads leave them way too busy to prepare healthy lunches. I’ve observed teachers who eat frozen or processed foods daily, both at work and at home, because their schedules don’t allow time to cook.
By keeping a garden in the summer, teachers not only provide themselves with a source of fresh, fast, and convenient whole foods, they also model a behavior that can inspire students and their families to combat food insecurity. Gardening is, in and of itself, a multidimensional learning activity. A teacher’s gardening experiences can enhance curriculum in any subject with relevant examples and real life experiences.
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3. Focus on Healthy Living. Learn where your food is coming from, how it is produced, and what is removed in processing.
Understand the risks associated with pesticides, and the limitations of agencies that set pesticide safety standards.
Feed your microbiome, explore nutrigenomics, and learn how factors like stress and environmental toxins can interfere with your metabolism and accelerate the aging process. Exercise. Run a 5K. Dance. Visit Grandma. Make those lifestyle changes that reduce stress, increase vitality, and surround you with the kind of people you enjoy spending time with.
Exercise. Run a 5K. Dance. Visit Grandma. Surround you with the kind of people you enjoy spending time with.
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4. Build a Passive Income Stream. Much of the personal stress teachers experience during the school year comes from not having enough income to deal with household needs, student loan debt, or retirement plans. Fifty years ago, teachers could count on a decent living wage and a stable retirement. But today, those guarantees have diminished. Having an alternate income stream that can provide options for times when teachers find too much month at the end of their paycheck, not to mention paying for that summer vacation. Passive income (some call it residual income) is money that you receive over and over again for a job you did one time. Maybe you invest time in writing a book and sell copies of it over and over again for years to come. Maybe you invest in stocks, or launch a direct marketing business. No longer limited to home meetings pitching make up and cookware, direct marketing with a reputable company is increasingly recognized as a reasonable option for building retirement income in a changing economy.
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5. Embrace Your Spiritual Side. Whether you are part of a conventional church community, a widely recognized global religion, an indigenous faith, or a new age metaphysical belief system, it is important to recognize the power of tapping into your spiritual side. In The Biology of Belief, biologist Bruce Lipton describes how cell signaling and epigenetics create a mind-body connection that can be leveraged through spiritual practices. Faith healing has perplexed the medical establishment for generations, and educators are discouraged from expressing their beliefs in public schools.
Yet business leaders and success motivators are quick to promote tapping into a higher power to maximize personal achievement, health, and well-being. Prayer or meditation is simply an important investment in your personal restoration. The harder you work, the more important it becomes to tap into your recognized source of eternal power. But let’s face it, I can’t supply a click button for your eternal source of power. You are on your own there.
Public education has been fraught with dysfunction for at least as long as taxes have supported it. Somehow, despite all the problems, remarkable young people emerged from our schools daily, thanking teachers for their success. In the weeks ahead, appreciation week will come and go. Administrators will fret over the latest round of budget cuts. Students will be assigned to next year’s overcrowded classrooms. Last years urgent reforms will be swept under the rug to make way for new mandates this fall. All of this will take place with or without your assistance. Wise teachers will take these changes in stride and use the summer months to take care of their own mind, body, and spirit.
About the author: Mary Lucero, PhD uses principles of life sciences and microbial ecology to restore healthy soils, healthy food systems, and healthy microbiomes. A former teacher, Lucero recognizes the influence of education on human and environmental health decisions. She thanks teachers from her own past for where she is today.