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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Teachers: It’s Not Selfish to Focus on the Self

Author note: The following is a series of blogs featuring excerpts and concepts from my upcoming book, tentatively titled: The Awakened Supervisor: Embedding Mindfulness-based Practices in Instructional Supervision (Rowman & Littlefield).

Teachers are well-known for giving so much of themselves to students and others—perhaps too much at times. Burnout rates are high within the teaching profession, and it’s no wonder given the nature of the job. Educators teach and give all day long, often without a thank you or any signs of appreciation. Consequently, more attention has been directed in recent years to the idea of teacher self-care; teachers must make their own wellness and self-management a priority.

This is not selfish. This is very practical.

What good is an overly tired, inattentive, stressed-out teacher? Yes, teachers, like anyone else in any other profession, will have bad days. However, the more centered, energetic, aware, alert, creative, and healthy a teacher is, the more students will likely benefit. The teaching will most likely be better.

Therefore, I’m a believer in putting the teacher at the center. The word student-centered has become a major buzzword but at what cost? Of course, students should be the focus of teachers, and students should learn to be autonomous learners and have more choice in the classroom. But we need to shift focus back to the teachers themselves. We must ensure they are taking good care of themselves, that they are feeling good. Ron Clark, the famous educator and co-founder of the Ron Clark Academy, says that a teacher’s job description is “to be in a good mood every day.” I agree with this, as the teacher sets the tone and climate for the classroom. However, to be a good mood requires remaining well and placing self-care at the center of one’s life. Have you ever tried to be a in good mood when you have a bad cold? Exactly.

So where do teachers begin? I think creating a self-care plan as mindfulness expert Patricia Jennings advocates is a wonderful idea. I have my student teachers list all the things they do in a typical day, then I have them figure out how much time they actually spend on self-care activities. For instance, do they make time to meditate, do yoga, go to the gym, spend time with friends, journal, spend time in nature, or engage in a hobby? Often, they realize that their well-being is not the priority, and changes need to be made.

Becoming aware of the need for self-care and how much time is spent in this area is an important first step for teachers. It’s not selfish but rather essential.