Teachers Can’t Self-care Themselves Out of a Toxic Work Environment


Teachers Can’t Self-care Themselves Out of a Toxic Work Environment

There’s a whole lot of talk about self-care these days. Open any social media app and you won’t need to scroll long to come across a meme or link advising self-care. Self-care is the practice of consciously making time to do something that promotes your own wellbeing. Naps, yoga, baths, pedicures, long walks in nature, meditation, reading for fun, a glass of wine, aromatherapy, coffee with a friend, etc. It’s often suggested as a solution for teacher burnout. And this is problematic.

Selfcare isn’t a solution for teacher burnout.

This mentality that self-care will make everything better is dangerous. It puts the burden on the teacher. It’s saying, “Oh, you’re stressed, tired and unhappy? You’re just not doing enough to care for yourself.” That’s nonsense. Don’t fall for it. You’re struggling because there are huge, heavy, complicated problems in the field of teaching impacting not only your professional life but the quality of your life overall. No amount of self-care is going to fix a toxic system. 

Do teachers need self-care?

Of course, self-care is beneficial for teachers! It’s absolutely necessary to take care of ourselves to keep from totally falling apart physically, mentally and emotionally. Make time whenever and as often as you can to do things that help you relax, feel peace, regain strength and find some clarity. 

However, engaging in self-care is extremely challenging for teachers, despite desperately needing it. We’re exhausted and stressed because we’re overworked, overburdened and don’t have enough energy or hours in the day. Yes, we know going to the gym, cooking a healthy meal, tucking ourselves into bed early or taking an hour to read something unrelated to education are healthy choices we need and deserve. But fitting it into our days is often just another impossible chore we feel guilty for being unable to accomplish. Promoting self-care as a way to avoid teacher burnout is unrealistic and is just another way around dealing with the real problems.

What do teachers need even more than a nap?

Naps are great, but you know what we need even more? Changes to the system. Big changes. A whole overhaul. Here are just a few of the issues teachers deal with daily that can’t be meditated away:

Disrespect: 

Teachers are so disrespected – by pretty much everyone. Most of us don’t get the respect we need from administration at either the school or district level. Education policies show the government clearly doesn’t respect the field of education. Many people in the general public accuse us of whining. And then there’s the parents and students. The disrespect from both groups is getting worse each year with support from administration often becoming more scarce. 

Feeling unsafe: 

The threat of a shooter coming into our classroom is very real. Not only do we have to worry about our own safety, but we’re constantly concerned about the safety of the students in our care. Beyond that, student violence against teachers is on the rise and many teachers have had scary encounters with threatening parents. 

Nearly 6% of Teachers in The U.S. Have Been Assaulted By a Student

Undervalued: 

Teachers are just expected to give endlessly because we “didn’t go into it for the money.” Wanting to make a difference, enjoying children and a love for teaching only go so far. Lunches and muffins during “Teacher Appreciation Week” are nice, but here are a few other things that show us our efforts are valued and voices heard: smaller class sizes, our pay not being linked to test scores, fully-stocked supply closets, or administrators who have our backs.

Underpaid: 

Many teachers are forced to work side gigs and summer jobs just to make ends meet. What other profession requires a high level of education, certification, and training with so little pay? Teachers have high-stakes responsibility without compensation to match. If the low salary isn’t bad enough, most teachers end up using their own money to purchase necessary supplies for their classroom so they can do their job effectively. 

Overworked: 

“Oh, you get off work at 3 p.m., have nights and weekends off and only work nine months a year – what is there to complain about?” The general public doesn’t understand the massive amount of work teachers do beyond the hours students are in class. The majority of meetings, conferences, professional development training, research, preparation, lesson planning, grading, accessing, report writing, etc. take place outside of classroom hours. When we aren’t working on those things, we’re thinking about them. It basically doesn’t end.

Fixing these issues is the only way to actually ease teacher burnout.  Without major changes, teachers will continue being forced out of the field. The ones that stay will continue dealing with increasing wear and tear on their bodies, mental health, and families. 

Teachers, go ahead and take that bubble bath. Use some of that stash of bath bombs, salts, and bubbles students give you for Christmas every year. Put on a face mask and your favorite tunes. Soak until your fingers look like raisins. Have a glass of wine or a mug of hot tea while you’re in there.

But don’t feel bad when you’re still exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed when you get out of the water. You can’t wash away a toxic work environment. The obnoxious administrator, disrespectful students, aggressive parents, stacks of paperwork, unrealistic expectations, insane workload, etc. are still going to be waiting for you. They didn’t swirl down the drain with your discarded bathwater. 

Self-care is important, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Teachers are underpaid, overworked and disrespected. And telling teachers self-care will make their exhaustion, anxiety, and unhappiness better is just adding salt to the wound. 

Also Read:

Teachers Can’t Self-care Themselves Out of a Toxic Work Environment

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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