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Self-Care Is Priority One for This Teacher

January is finally over. I swear this month had 974 days in it. After returning from Winter Break I felt as if I just could not keep up with myself. There is always so much to do and so very few hours in the day to balance everything. Normally this is when my really bad habits form, like skipping meals, drinking too much soda and eating too much junk food, foregoing date night with my significant other and sleeping in on Sundays instead of going to church.
I, like so many other people, choose a focus word at the beginning of a new year. This year my word is HEALTH. And not just physical health, but mental, emotional and spiritual health as well. I had decided last year that I was not going to take a bunch of school work home- including grading. So far, I’ve done really well with that promise to myself. This school year has proven itself to much more challenging than last school year, and I found myself slowly taking a few things home here and there. Unfortunately, those few things quickly turned into two or three hours of work after school. You better believe I stopped that practice very quickly! But then I would feel guilty because of course even more work was added to my pile at school and I never seemed to get a handle on it. I was barely above water by the time break came. So over break I spent time trying to figure out how to restructure things so that I physically didn’t get stressed out, mentally didn’t feel guilty and frustrated with myself and emotionally didn’t fall into a state of depression.
So in order to manage everything without drinking heavily on a nightly basis, I did these three things:
First, I closed my door when I got to my classroom in the morning. I know that this sounds silly to some, but I ALWAYS left my classroom door open when I arrived in case another teacher needed me. I also allowed students to drop by on their way to class to get a hug or high five. I loved this time with students, knowing that some of them looked forward to seeing me first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, in prioritizing my time, I decided to lock and close my door so I could get stuff done for ME, including last-minute lesson plan changes, reading and responding to emails and grading. Doing this allows me to start my day off feeling productive and I’m still able to greet kids going down the hall after the bell rings.
Second, I created stacks throughout the day and placed them into boxes labeled “Priority One”, “Sometime This Week” and “Whenever”. This allows me to only touch papers once instead of sifting through them several times. I automatically know my “Priority One” box gets my attention first, whether that be during my planning period, during independent student work time or in the mornings with my door locked and closed. Once I have accomplished something out of any of my boxes I immediately file it away, hand it off to whoever needs it or put a sticky note on it saying that it is completed and place it at the bottom of the box. Prioritizing this way has made a huge change in time management for me.
Finally, to keep me from losing my mind I DO NOT take home ANY grading. I take home special education paperwork that needs attention and I will make phone calls to parents on my own time, but I have decided that grading can wait. I try to grade papers as they are turned in to me, but more lengthy papers that need a little bit of extra TLC get to stay in my inbox for a few days. I give feedback back as quickly as possible, but sometimes grading takes a back burner for a few days. I have decided that my mental and emotional well-being is much more important than my grade book.
We all need more time in the day, even though we know we would just fill that extra time with more things on our to-do lists. I must put my personal well-being ahead of everything else. When I am not functioning well physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually nothing gets accomplished like it needs to be. I must take care of myself before I take care of others.

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