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How We Learned to Skip the Bean

We get it. Coffee is a magical bean. What else can have you skipping to your classroom at 6 in the morning after a long, cold night of grading midterms on the living room floor? And if you’re in the education profession, they’ll peer-pressure you all day: “Wanna cup of coffee? I just made coffee! Who needs a refill?” You’ve never seen the coffee pot in the teacher lounge go wanting for company. And why not? That little cup of liquid enlightenment has been linked to lowering the risk of diabetes, depression, and even some cancers

So, drink up, right? Well, sort of. Despite the many medical benefits we can grasp for in the Google searches we use to justify our dependence, doctors often caution us against heavy use. For some, these unfortunate consequences seem worth it. For others, the potential anxiety and irritability, raise in blood pressure, and sleep disruption can send us into a vicious cycle of “not awesome”. Still, to maintain the energy of rockstars and superheroes in the classroom we can’t deny our need for a kick start. So what choice do we have? Education World has some great tips on how you can maintain that epic vitality—from your first period of the morning to your last essay of the night—with just a few small adjustments to your day (and maybe one less trip to the ol’ Keurig).

Water You Drinking?

Let’s start simple and manageable: hydration. Start your day with a nice cold glass of water. Drinking water in the morning recuperates your body after hours of sleep-induced dehydration. And dehydration causes fatigue. The cold will also trigger adrenaline, which will help your heart pump stronger, increasing blood flow to your brain and body. 

But don’t stop there. As we move from class period to data team meeting to staff meeting to student conferences, it’s extremely easy for teachers to not notice the needs of their bodies. Your co-workers might stop you to push a cup of joe, but how often do they offer you water? And although the dehydrating effects of coffee are generally overestimated, that bottle of water will do much more than you’d think. The bloodstream uses water to transport oxygen and nutrients (including your energy-providing carbohydrates) to various parts of the body, including the brain. A 2009 study by Tufts University found that even mild dehydration (as little as 1-2% loss of water in your body) was associated with both fatigue and confusion. Last thing any of us need is our students catching us not firing on all four cylinders. Keep a water bottle in your backpack, and every time you think about grabbing a cup of coffee, fill it up. You’re guaranteed to notice a difference in your day.

Snack It Up!

Now this is one we can all probably agree on. You need to snack more. Well, at least eat smaller, more frequent meals. Large meals are likely making you drowsy. Your body spends more of its resources digesting and processing your meal, instead of diverting to your engagement in your lesson. But if you give your body less to manage all at once, you’ll find you’ll quickly have energy to spare throughout the day. In particular, foods high in protein and healthy fats can help to provide sustained energy that releases slowly into your body, instead of being dumped into your system all at once. These foods will not lead to the energy crash the way sugary or caffeinated foods and drinks might. Relying solely on stimulants and carbohydrates during the day will absolutely give you that short-term boost in alertness and seem like a really good idea at the time, but will ultimately leave you feeling drained. Protein snacks will help sustain you through that mid-morning slump and give you much longer-lasting energy increases.  One study done by the University of Sydney also suggests that high-fiber breakfasts provide the greatest dietary boost in alertness. However, know that there are lots of great snacks you can pack to get you to last period, still standing upright.

Chew On This...

If for some reason healthy snacks throughout the day aren’t manageable, you can still benefit from pretending you’re eating. You read that correctly. Chewing itself – whether gum, ice, or other masticatables – has been linked to higher levels of alertness. You see, chewing on anything fools your body into thinking it’s about to eat, which naturally releases energy-increasing insulin. To boot, the act of chewing seems to increase blood flow to the head, while activating key regions of the brain related to working memory processing. 

One study by the Department of Counseling and Student Development at Eastern Illinois University has even suggested that chewing gum can help people focus on exams, decrease anxiety, and improve reading comprehension. At the risk of scraping off the bottoms of desks every semester, perhaps pass a few sticks out on finals day! Just be mindful of your environment. Not everyone in the teacher’s room will want to hear the chomping involved in your newfound trick.

Cat Videos.

Well, maybe cat videos specifically aren’t your thing, but they make us giggle. And laughter has been shown in multiple studies to not only increase wakefulness, but also boost the immune system, lower stress hormones, and improve overall mental functioning. Actively engaging in whatever it is that makes you chuckle can help break up your day and reset your mind. Your school might have strict online content policies, but if you can find even a few minutes to watch or read something that tickles your funny bone, you’ll quickly find yourself ready to take on the next part of your day.

If you don’t believe us, take a moment to check out some pieces from our own lighter side, and then see how you feel! Perhaps these “teacher moments” will seem all too real. Get up-to-date with the latest teacher jargon. See if these Amazon reviews of teacher products match your experience. Or read these texts from your inner administrator. Whatever strikes your fancy, find the time to embrace the absurd, and we guarantee you’ll notice your need for that mid-day dark roast begin to disappear.


Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher in Connecticut.