All we have heard about in teacher preparation programs in recent years is how it should be about others—or that the problem with people today is that they think it is all about them.
Unfortunately, as a classroom professional of today, you probably find yourself on the flip side of the coin. You are focused on everyone and everything but yourself. After years of being trained that you should define your success based on the success of the students in your classroom, the satisfaction of the parents of those youth, and the priorities of the administrators at the institutions at which you serve, it is easy to lose track of your own needs, expectations, and goals.
Without a sound mind and physically fit body you will not be able to succeed in the classroom. Remember those three deep breaths that were a part of your preparation? How often do you take time out to have “you” time, or even to take those three deep breaths?
When you feel that you are at your wits’ end, that you are not appreciated, that you are on a one-way track only counting the days until the next holiday or retirement, you have earned a failing grade in “you.”
When you reach this point, it is time to reset. Because when you take care of yourself first, you are a better teacher to students, partner to parents, and colleague to the members of the administration. Most importantly, you benefit you. When you invest in yourself, you emanate passion and creativity. You go to work with excitement because what you have to offer is stimulating, not just to your students, but to you. In the words of Mother Teresa: “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.”
If you are reading this and are saying something like “sure, it’s easy for you to say,” you need more “self” than others. While you say you cannot find time to take a 10-minute walk, go to the gym, fix a balanced meal, make a healthy lunch, have a bubble bath, or meditate, realize that you do have time; what you need to do is to move “you” into the number one position on your list of to-dos.
Others will notice—not the number of tasks you completed in a day, but the excellence of your teaching and the quality of your company. You will also notice. You will have more energy to develop your lesson plans and to keep up with students’ questions and curiosities.
After all, the flu isn’t the only thing that can get passed around a classroom—happiness is contagious too.
Dr. J. L. Fortson is the director of student teaching and director of the new Pat Lucas Center for Teacher Preparation serving the master of arts in education programs.