We, teachers, are a unique group in many ways. We hope for the impossible. Yet, we often have limited supplies, minimal funding, and almost never have the support that we need, yet we succeed. When it comes to mental health, though, we are not unique. Teachers get sick, just like everyone else (though we often push through it. Have you ever taught through laryngitis, pneumonia, strep throat, sinus infection, etc. ?). We also struggle with mental health issues.
Teaching is an extremely stressful profession. For those prone to mental health problems, the stress of teaching can exacerbate many mental health conditions. Teachers must take care of their mental health. The truth is that if you don’t take care of yourself, you are no good to anyone else.
“Wellbeing and development can no longer be viewed as a ‘nice to have.’ Failure to address this will lead to more teachers leaving the profession and fewer people wanting to join.” – The Guardian.
What Affects Teachers’ Mental Health?
What is it specifically about teaching that is so harmful to teachers’ mental health? Sure, stress is a contributing factor, but there is more to it than that:
- Perfectionism: Teachers often have a mentality that they must be perfect. With teaching, you are never done. There is always more you could do. Your lesson could be more creative, more fun, more engaging. You could organize this, or plan that. It’s great to have goals, and we should always to strive to be better, but it is vital to know when to walk away and accept the messiness that is our profession.
- Lack of Support: Support, what’s that? Some schools are extremely supportive of their teachers, but many are not. Even when schools try to be supportive they just plain don’t have the funds. Classes are too big, there are kids with needs beyond the teacher’s capabilities and there are never enough teaching aides.
- Lack of Respect: There are many people out there that revere teaching as a profession. They strive to let teachers know they are valued. Through the years I’ve received many notes, gifts, and words of encouragement from parents and colleagues. Still, most teachers deal with more than their fair share of disrespect. Administrators don’t always give teachers the respect they deserve. Parents can be downright mean, and so can other teachers. The media doesn’t help with this, often only covering the stories of child molesting teachers or a teacher who lost it on their class. But there are ways you can gain respect from colleagues and parents.
- Learned Helplessness: Learned helplessness is a psychological concept that says that when someone gives their all over and over again with no positive result they give up. Those with learned helplessness are very prone to depression. Unfortunately, teachers are sometimes in situations where they try and try and give their all, but they still feel punished and degraded.
What Can Schools Do?
A few things to help their teachers:
- Educate teachers on how to take care of themselves. I know it sounds simple, but many people don’t really know the potential results of not taking care of themselves and they subsequently don’t highly value it. Incorporate self-care into your school’s PD.
- Create a culture of self-care and support. Recognize that teaching is hard and encourage teachers to support each other. We live in a culture that highly values ‘busyness.’ We often talk about how ‘busy’ we are. Try to change this trend in how you speak to each other in your school. Administrators can be patient with employees when they take off when they are sick when they have a family emergency when they go on vacation, and even when they just need a day off.
- Give teachers access to mental health resources (hotlines, EAP, etc.): disseminate information about mental health hotlines and where to get in touch with a counselor.
What Can Teachers do for Themselves?
Ultimately, the burden of keeping ourselves mentally healthy rests on us. So, what can we do?
- Get enough sleep: 5-6 hours a night just doesn’t cut it. You need 7-8 hours each night. It’s not always easy to do, but getting enough sleep is essential for good mental health.
- Know thyself: Know your limits. Know when to say no.
- Eat well and exercise: Again, it’s easier said than done, but it’s also possible. Start small, with simple changes. A walk around the block, fruit for an afternoon snack, or yogurt instead of ice cream.
- Unplug from school: Take some time each day from the stress. Do something that feeds your soul. Take a weekend off and do absolutely nothing school related. Take a vacation.
- Positive self-talk: Be as kind to yourself as you would to your best friend. Would you tell your best friend that they are an idiot or that they really screwed up or will never get it right? Speak kindly to yourself.
- Find a Buddy: Get support from a friend at school. Everyone needs a good teacher friend; someone you can cry to at the end of a long day or who can come in and take over your class if you’ve just had too much.
- Counseling and medication: If you get to a point where you’re having more bad days than good, where your anxiety or sadness are getting in the way of what you want to accomplish, or where life has lost the luster it once had, it may be time to see a counselor or try medication. There is no shame in needing help and it is important to seek it when you need it.
Take Care of Yourself
Teachers’ mental health is important – not just for their well-being for all for their class’. Take care of yourself and recognize when it’s necessary to ask for help.
By: Amy Curletto
Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.