I’ve said it before and I’ll say again: the second year of teaching is universally, infinitely better than the first year. It’s been so much smoother from the beginning; my discipline issues have been lower, my relationships with students have been better, my stress level is laughably lower than last year, my lessons have been more effective. Give me a choice between where I am now and where I was six months ago and I will take now, hands down, no hesitation.
But this past week, I realized I’ve stopped taking care of myself.
I think it probably happened because this year has started off so smoothly. Everything has been going so much better than last year that it’s really taken me this long to understand how much I’ve ignored caring for myself. I haven’t exercised (really) in about two weeks. (Cough, cough – should have started marathon training last month – cough cough.) I have meditated once a week, maybe, for all of September. And while I haven’t been overeating, like I was when under so much stress last year, I haven’t been eating particularly well lately.
But because school has been going so well, I barely even noticed.
I had to really take a moment to process that when it became clear to me. This career can be so demanding, so high-energy and high-focus, that when it’s going well, you can still forget to take care of yourself. This is because even a teaching job that is fantastic is still a job that can redirect all of the energy you have. It’s just that type of job. So far this year, I’ve been about 90% work, 10% me. Even with the school year going as well as it’s going, that’s obviously an unhealthy balance.
Over the last few days, I’ve taken a couple basic steps. I went to Target (oh, Target, I love you) and got a new planner that allows me to build in a “self-care checklist” so I can keep better track of whether or not I’m practicing self-care. Even something that tiny – have I exercised? have I meditated? have I done something emotionally beneficial for myself? – can feel huge after so many weeks of neglect. I meditated this morning, for the first time in too long; probably at least partly because of my meditation this morning and my choice to actually get out of bed and run before school, I had the best day at school that I’ve had in well over a week.
It is so easy to find yourself in a routine of mediocrity. That mediocre, “just so-so” routine is often because we forget to take care of ourselves. It is so easy, too easy, to find yourself in that pattern as a teacher. Eventually, of course, the pattern of mediocrity leads to a pattern of stress, which leads to burning out. Even though I’m out of one of the most difficult years of my teaching career (or so they say), I still have to check in with how well I’m doing in regards to self-care.
Self-care is a process to be continued throughout your days and months, not a single checkpoint to cross before being perfectly okay forever. I needed that reminder, and I will hopefully be able to remind myself of that more quickly the next time I fall short.