Life has changed so much recently that I thought I’d blog about some ways I’m keeping my sanity, and finding my joy with our new normal. Teacher self care is always important, but during distance learning it is crucial! I love being a teacher, and I am truly grateful that we have a profession that we are able to do remotely. I know that this is not ideal – for anyone. This post is full of tips to help you care for yourself, and feel good.
1. Set Boundaries in your home
My first teacher self care tip during distance learning is for you to set boundaries when it comes to teaching remotely. I know that this is a lot easier said than done. When I talk with my teacher friends, all of us agree that we are working more hours now that we are working from home.
Many of us have repurposed parts of our homes into makeshift classrooms, and find ourselves answering emails while cooking dinner. My advice, is to stop allowing work to bleed into your personal life.
I get it, we have a lot to do. This is a very stressful time, and we want to be there for our students and their families. The reality, however, is that we must first be present for ourselves and our own families. Remember, you cannot share water if you have an empty cup.
Find a small part of your home to dedicate to work. This part of your home should be in front of a wall, so that you don’t have to worry about anyone accidently coming into your shot. Even if you live alone, you need to be careful that you are not physically allowing work to take over your entire living area. That is not healthy. For more on this you can view more remote teaching tips.
Set up your teaching space to have everything that you need, make it comfortable. Once you have the area set up – Do not teach outside of this space. Do not work outside of this space. Seriously.
If you are unwinding during the evening and glance over at your laptop sitting on the sofa next to you, how does that make you feel? When I do that, I feel anxious. I also begin thinking about work that I will have to do. This does not help me relax. If you keep your laptop in your designated work area, however, you will find that you’re able to unwind better and that tomorrow you will be more focused and better able to complete your to do list.
2. Set Boundaries with your time
Bringing work home is something we’ve always done as teachers. Grading papers while watching a movie with the family is not a new concept. What is new, however, is the excessive amounts of hours teachers are now putting in. My second teacher self care tip during distance learning is to have dedicated work hours, and then stop.
My school year began remotely this year, and I have pushed myself to work a few extra hours each Friday. Not that I enjoy putting in the extra time on Friday, but I want to finish my work so that I can enjoy spending the rest of the weekend with my family and close friends. I can’t enjoy a relaxing Sunday if I am writing my lesson plans for the week, or stressing about what I’m going to teach on Monday. I have a Friday to-do list. I’m sure you have a mental one by now too. Write it out, and put it somewhere handy so you can begin checking things off of that list Thursday afternoon. That way, by the time Friday evening comes you can stop working and enjoy your weekend.
I know some of you may be thinking – but I’m not doing anything this weekend anyway. You may not be going anywhere, but you do have a VERY important task for this weekend. To relax, and recharge. Even if that means talking on the phone to a friend, taking a walk, or cooking a favorite dish. You need to enjoy some much needed me time. Do it, and leave work alone.
Pace yourself on Friday, and get as much planning and lesson creation done as possible during your work day. I allow myself about 2 extra hours of planning time on Friday afternoon. This allows me to load up my Google Classroom, and schedule the assignments to go live on their designated day. I also get my synchronous lessons ready to go. If you need some ideas for your synchronous lessons, check out my Google Slides and PowerPoints for primary grades. By 6:00pm, however, I’m done. I close my laptop, and leave the spare bedroom I work out of. I do not go back into that room again until Monday morning.
When I arrive, however, my plans are done. My lessons have been created and I’m ready to share them with my students.
3. Teacher Self-Care During Distance Learning tip – Avoid Zoom Brain
Zoom brain is a new phenomenon, and I’m sure people will spend a lot of time studying it’s actual effects. I do know that after long live sessions on the computer I feel very tired. I’ve read that it has something to do with the way our brains are wired to look for social cues on people’s faces. With so many faces on the screen at once, our brains are attending to all of them and it is causing a type of overload.
How do you avoid Zoom brain. Here is the strategy I’ve begun using. While I’m teaching my live lessons I generally have two portions – the lesson portion and then the discussion portion. During the lesson portion I’ve begun using a little piece of paper which I fold in half to cover the part of the screen containing my students faces. Then, when I’m ready for the discussion portion I uncover them all so that I can engage with them fully.
It’s not ideal, but I find that I have less fatigue at the end of each live lesson. During my small reading groups I do the same thing while my students are reading. I can still hear them and offer reading support – but I only uncover their faces when we begin discussing the story. Sometimes, it may require moving the piece of paper several times during each lesson.
4. Relax and Treat Yourself Kindly
How do I continue with self-care, while also working hard to limit my out of the home activities? I do all of the things I used to pay others for myself. Manicures and pedicures are becoming easier, and I’m getting pretty good at them. I have ordered some wonderful face masks and scrubs, and I give myself facials. My favorite treat is taking a long relaxing bath.
A big part of me feeling good, is feeling that I look good. One great thing about teaching virtually is that our personal appearance still matters. People see us each day, so I continue to take pride in how I look. Even when I go to the grocery store, I take the time to put thought into my wardrobe. I don’t go very many places, but when I leave my house I feel better about myself if I look put together. It is one of the ways that I am continuing to feel like my normal self.
5. Find New Favorite Things
A few years ago I began a monthly subscription with Rent the Runway. Twice a month I rent 4 designer pieces of clothing – I wear them and then send them back. Rent the Runway handles the cleaning, and ironing. When the pandemic first began, I thought about ending my subscription, but each month I continued to have so much fun each time my clothes arrived.
I also felt safe, because each clothing item comes in a sealed dry cleaning bag. I am not shopping in stores right now, but with the help of Rent the Runway, I get to borrow clothing from my very own virtual closet each month. Now instead of wearing my cute fall sweater to brunch with friends, I’m wearing it over to my good friends back yard where we can social distance together. If you’re interested in giving them a try use this code: RTRFAM52324C1 and you’ll get $100 off of 2 months of RTR’s 2-swap program.
I have so much fun wearing my new clothes each month. I never would have believed how much fun Rent the Runway would be during this pandemic.
Another way I continue to practice self-care is by keeping up with my hair. I don’t go to the salon nearly as much as I used to. In fact, during this time I’ve performed a lot of the treatments I usually pay my stylist for at home. My friend Robin Collymore from Natural and Professional has a wonderful website devoted to African American women with tons of natural hair care tips. I don’t wear my hair in its natural state, but she’s helped me a lot with conditioning ideas during this time. Each week I take time out for my hair, and once again it helps me feel better about myself.
6. Keep Moving
My next teacher self-care tip during distance learning is to move, move, move. I normally take about 10,000 steps each day while teaching face to face. I am a primary grades teacher, so I constantly move around the room helping my first graders. While teaching remotely, I am literally sitting in front of a computer each day. By the beginning of last summer, I noticed that many of my clothes were a lot more snug than they used to be. So, I began walking during the summer months and have kept it up this fall.
I still found that I was not able to get in the same amount of exercise sitting at home, that I was while working in a brick and mortar school. So, I treated myself to this wonderful treadmill. I do not use it while I am live with my students. It’s perfect, however, for all of the emails, lesson planning, researching, creating Google Slides, and extra work that I do. I am always on my computer now. After recommending this treadmill to so many people I believe it is currently out of stock. My advice is to find a comparable one on Amazon though, because I honestly have found such a difference since I began using it that I can’t imagine working from home without this.
By placing my laptop on this treadmill I am able to walk while I work. I cannot explain how much this treadmill is improving my remote teaching experience. Especially now that the weather is turning colder. I highly recommend this product.
7. Practice Gratitude
There is a lot of change going on in the world right now. It is easy to get caught up in the negativity. That, however, is not going to help you feel better. I have spent a lot of time reading about past pandemics, and the people who lived through them.
One blessing we all have right now, is the ability to do so much through technology. We can continue to keep in touch with our loved ones. We can continue to work and earn income. We can continue to have entertainment. We can continue to shop. We can continue to prepare delicious meals right in our own homes. We can continue to live fulfilled lives. The list goes on and on. When we think about people who lived through the last pandemic about 100 years ago, they did not have access to many of the technological wonders which we do.
It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity with coworkers and friends. Try to avoid those conversations though, as they will only bring you down.
I have begun practicing gratitude, and do it as often as possible. By sitting down and making a list of 10 things I’m grateful for. I don’t do it each day, but I try to do it a few times a week. It helps me keep things in perspective, and it helps me feel better.
If you’re looking for more great tips this month, check out our October Teacher Talk. Enjoy!