Is self-care a beautiful reality or impossible dream for teachers to achieve?

An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.

Author Unknown

I awoke this morning thinking about school starting in two weeks. Am I ready? I mean mentally and physically prepared. Are my lesson plans in order, and do I know what I will teach and when? Am I able to stand most of the day, meet and greet 100 new learners? Have I prepared my mind, body, and spirit to do what is necessary?

My subsequent thoughts were affirmed by whether or not I had taken care of myself enough over the Summer to meet the tasks at hand. So, I decided to question a teacher’s Facebook Group to see what other teachers were thinking.   

As a teacher, when you hear the words “self-care,” what does it personally make you think of?

Question posed in secondary ELA Teacher’s Facebook group

I did not expect the responses that I got. There were two clear teams—one for and the other against the notion of self-care. Some answers threatened bodily harm to the next person uttering those words.  

Platitude, Gaslighting, Toxic Positivity, and Cudgel

Is self-care a term that is used too often to be interesting or thoughtful? Like everything that we hear or see too often, we become immune to it, which is no longer effective. Buzz words like self-care have lost meaning to many people who never figured out how to make it happen.

Are the school administrators manipulating teacher’s reality? Unfortunately, the truth is a severe lack of time and resources for many educators. Yet, when teachers voice their concerns, the feedback is usually, “Take some time for yourself.” To which teachers reply, “When? and How?”

Has the term self-care been weaponized against teachers? Those teachers who express discontent for one reason or another feel dismissed by the notion of their lack of self-care being the reason for the situation they find themselves in.  Disingenuine positivity creates a culture of mistrust and lack of faith in the very system teachers put their heart and soul into for the students.  

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset (more buzz words)

I am a believer in the notion of fixed vs. growth mindset pioneered by Carol Dweck. I read the book. So I was able to determine that clearly, the responses to my question were one or the other – fixed or growth-minded.  

A responsible, healthy person will always be monitoring their time, exercise, nutrition, emotional, and social needs.

An ELA TEACHER

This statement was perhaps the most positive of all comments posted. I could immediately identify with the notion of self-monitoring. It’s what I do all the time. It is also why I am a huge fan of mindfulness (buzz word) and personal development.  

Teachers expressed being overwhelmed at managing all of the hours of work required and finding time to take care of themselves. Taking personal responsibility to prioritize self and make it happen seems to come at a cost for those who do not believe (fixed mindset) that things can get better. It means setting boundaries and sticking to those boundaries no matter the cost.

Complaints of sitting through unnecessary professional development sessions, still feeling burned out from the prior year, more stuff to do than time will reasonably allow. Yet, on the other side, teachers can create structure, routines, and boundaries – they know how to leave the papers at school! 

I was surprised by many negative responses because I did not realize how triggering the term self-care is. Although I have been very fortunate to have great school administrators that were not disingenuine, I certainly understand the position of my colleagues from multiple school districts.    

How can we care for someone else if we aren’t caring for ourselves?

Here are three highly rated and recommended resources to help answer that question:
All the best to Educators!
Davina

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