7 Ways to Practice Teacher Self-Care This Summer and Prepare for What’s Coming

7 Ways to Practice Teacher Self-Care This Summer and Prepare for What's Coming

We spent the last weeks of the school year dreaming of the bounty summer holds—long, lazy months to make time in our lives for all the things that teaching has crowded out. Now that summer vacation is finally here, how do we heal from the stresses of the previous year and steel ourselves for the demands of the coming year?

The answer is self-care.

This loaded term brings to mind images of expensive massages, extensive meal prep, exhausting workouts, and extravagant vacations. After working so hard all year on a teacher’s salary, who has the energy or the money for self-care? 

But self-care is much simpler than that.

Splurging on a grand gesture of self-care may seem like a good idea, but the benefits will be just as short-lived as your effort. Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all, instant-gratification solution to life’s problems. Rather, self-care is an individually-crafted, custom-fitted commitment to show up for ourselves every day. 

Use this summer to discover the self-care regimen that works best for you by exploring the seven main categories of self-care and finding the activities that will help you design your teacher self-care routine. 

1. Sensory

Our school days bombard us with sensory stimuli: strange smells, sticky fingers, and fluorescent lights. Summer is your chance to indulge your senses in more pleasant experiences. Step outside and watch the sunlight shimmer through the leaves overhead. Pause and inhale the perfume of lilacs growing along the sidewalk. Savor your favorite summertime treat, now that you have time to chew your food. 

2. Pleasure

We spend so much time trying to make others happy that we lose sight of our own joy. Now that you’ve streamlined the number of people in your care, reconnect with the simple pleasures you’ve denied yourself during the school year. Read a book that is not part of your curriculum. Watch a movie that could never pass as “educational.” Resume an old hobby or take up a new one. Be a tourist in your town and rediscover the scenery you pass every day on your way to work.

3. Mental/Mastery

Teachers perform all kinds of mental gymnastics to survive the demands of the school year, but continuous thought on the same concepts drains confidence and suppresses creative thinking. Take a break from the school mindset to challenge your brain in new ways. Learn a new skill that has no relation to the classroom. Clean your house, and see if you can devise an improved way to organize your home. Give yourself the satisfaction of completing a brain teaser or checking items off a to-do list.

4. Spiritual

We get so caught up in the bustle of the school year, reflecting on each past moment and anticipating the next, that we rarely slow down and just exist in the present moment. Now that the urgency of the school year has passed, get back in touch with your values. Go to church and enjoy the service, free from the mental nagging to finish your work for Monday. Dedicate more time to sitting in meditation, or take up a practice if you’ve never tried it before. Use the nice weather to get outside and enjoy nature. Do whatever you need to return to a state of peace and fulfillment.  

5. Emotional

Our schools are hotbeds of emotional activity. When emotions run high in the classroom, it’s difficult not to internalize the negativity of others. Give yourself time this summer to understand and accept your own emotions. Cry if you need to. Seek out opportunities to laugh. A lot. Write down how you feel in a journal. But above all, practice self-compassion. You’re doing your best, and that is the best you can do. 

6. Physical

Teaching is a whole-body effort. We hunch over papers to grade, point and gesture to punctuate our lessons, and speed walk to beat the bell. Now that you’re not being pulled in different directions, give your body the movement it needs. Go for a walk at a pace that feels comfortable for you. Find an outdoor yoga group and give it a try. Join your kids in the lake, pond, or pool for an invigorating swim. Plant and tend to a garden or do yard work. Or work out, if that’s your thing.

7. Social

While we are busy cultivating relationships with our students, we tend to neglect the ones we have with our families and friends. Take advantage of the longer days to make time for people you’ve lost touch with over the school year. Make the phone call you’ve been putting off, and really listen this time. Get together for a lunch that you can sit and enjoy. If you’re social distancing, put Zoom to a use other than virtual meetups.

Teacher self-care is crucial to help prevent burn out. It takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become a habit. Summer vacation is just enough time to explore self-care and solidify the practices that will see you safely and sanely through the next school year.


7 Ways to Practice Teacher Self-Care This Summer and Prepare for What's Coming

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Melisa Ferguson
Melisa is a mom, world language teacher, and self-care enthusiast.
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