May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If there’s one thing we know for certain, this school year has been difficult for everyone. I recently caught up with award-winning teacher Lindsey Jensen to find out how she’s been managing the stress of teaching during a pandemic. Check out our conversation for some great self-care tips!
How have you been taking care of yourself—physically, psychologically, spiritually, etc.? What are your best strategies?
To be honest, at the beginning of the school year I didn’t do a very good job of self-care at all. I wasn’t sleeping. I was constantly worried and full of stress. I didn’t take time to eat three meals a day and was a complete workaholic. Fear of the unknown was overwhelming.
I quickly realized that I needed to take better care of myself, and I started by focusing on the physical. I contacted a former student who is now a personal trainer, and she taught me how to track and manage my water consumption and eating habits (because as it turned out, I was only consuming half the calories that my body actually needed to function at full capacity, which was undoubtedly due to work-related stress.) She also planned a series of workouts to help me release stress, which improved my sleep patterns significantly.
Psychologically, I started focusing on the things that brought me joy outside of work, and I made a commitment to be intentional about finding ways to incorporate those joys into each day. Nothing brings me more joy than my animals, and after I wrapped up my dissertation in December, my husband and I decided to add a new rescue pup to our family, which brings our total of furry friends to three dogs and one cat. This puppy has been so good for my soul.
Spiritually, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and reflecting on how to be kinder to myself—not such a perfectionist, not such a workaholic, etc. I’m learning that it’s just as important to take time to appreciate the quiet, to be alone with my thoughts, and to be intentional about kind self-talk. It has helped to center me during this chaotic year.
What have you learned about yourself this year? What adjustments have you made? How are you managing the stress?
I’ve learned that I cannot thrive in spaces where educator voices aren’t valued. I’ve learned to become a better advocate for my colleagues and myself this year, not to mention for my students. I’ve also learned that I will not adhere to policies that I know are harmful to kids (i.e. forcing kids to turn on their video cameras) even if it means getting reprimanded. I manage the stress by reminding myself constantly that I work WITH adults, but I work FOR kids. And that usually serves as my moral compass.
What’s your plan to make it through the rest of the school year?
I teach seniors, so my plan is to savor the two weeks that I have left with them, to nurture their creativity as they finish up final products, and to empower them with messages of encouragement as they conclude the school year. Focusing on my students helps to drown out the negativity of the school year.
How are you helping your students?
I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty flexible teacher, but I’ve been exceptionally flexible this year. I’ve asked my students for their input more than ever before because I know that they are balancing the stress of the school year just like I am, and their opinions and perspectives are important when making decisions this year. In so many ways, I feel like a novice teacher this year and the knowledge and skills that my students possess have been wonderful assets in my classroom. I’ve realized that students will often tell us what they need. We just have to be willing to ask, and that knowledge has allowed me to be a better teacher for my students in the midst of this challenging year.
How do we even begin to show appreciation for educators this year?
We show appreciation to educators by valuing, honoring, and listening to their expertise and their experiences. Period.
What are great administrators doing to help teachers this year?
Great administrators are creating spaces for teachers to lead in their buildings/districts. They challenge the status quo of the administrative hierarchy, and they include teachers in important decision-making to do what’s best for kids.
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