Teachers: Remember to Put on Your Oxygen Mask First

Teachers: Remember to Put on Your Oxygen Mask First

Cristina Zawacki

I recently took a trip with my family–something we haven’t done in a very long time–and we needed to take a plane in order to get to our destination.  My children had never been on a plane before, so I was busy making sure they were safe and comfortable.  Once everyone was settled, the flight attendants began their pre-flight safety demonstration. We all watched as they went through everything, with grand gestures and cheerful smiles. 

“Remember, put your mask on first before helping others.”

This made me pause.  A simple demonstration, one I had seen countless times before, suddenly became about so much more than a routine piece of plane protocol.

I never put my mask on first and, to be quite truthful, many of my teacher friends don’t either.

The entire reason we are told to put on our oxygen masks before helping others is because we literally won’t be able to survive if we can’t breathe.  It makes perfect, logical sense.  Of course that’s what we should do!

But we don’t.

Educators, by their very nature, are selfless.  We give of ourselves to our students, in all of the ways one can give.  Why?  We genuinely want them to succeed.  We do it because teaching is not just a job; it’s an entire existence.

Instead of eating, teachers spend their lunchtime running around finding resources to help that one student who might just be able to grasp a concept if they try this one different thing.  

Instead of relaxing, teachers spend their hard earned breaks planning lessons for when they return back to school.

Instead of sleeping, teachers spend their evenings grading papers and creating engaging activities.

How can we be of any help to anyone if we are doing everything instead of taking care of ourselves?  How can we put on our figurative oxygen masks first?

193 Oxygen Mask Plane Stock Vector Illustration and Royalty Free Oxygen  Mask Plane Clipart

Manageable Self-Care Practices 

During those moments when we are implementing strategies for mindfulness, and giving our students tools to increase their own social and emotional well-being, it’s imperative we remember to include ourselves in these experiences as well.  

You. Matter. Too.

What are some things we can do, as teachers, that won’t zap our entire prep or lunch period?

  1. Prioritize your to-do list. You do not have to complete every single thing before tomorrow morning.  Pick one or two major things, and focus on those.  Be realistic about what you can actually get done, and leave the rest of that stuff you just jammed into your bag on the desk at school.
  1. Set boundaries. Technology is a beautiful thing, but you do not need to tether yourself to it.  If you receive an email late at night, and far after school hours, you are not obligated to respond immediately.  Save it for the morning, after you have (hopefully) gotten a few hours of sleep and had yourself a cup of coffee.
  1. Implement mindfulness practices throughout the day. You are likely already doing this for your students, so why can’t you join in as well?  Mindfulness journaling is a great morning routine and a wonderful way to help increase positive self talk.  Start your day with a classroom conversation and one minute of deep breathing.  In the middle of the day, perhaps right after lunch, engage in a mantra activity or have another set of breathing exercises you find work best for both you and your students.  End the day with a gratitude share-out or even a goal you would like to achieve for the following day.  If you’re not sure of where to even begin, you can try using a teacher wellness choice board as inspiration for your own self-care.
  1. Create a plan for your own wellness. You already plan for and assess your students, so take some time to do the same for yourself.  Evaluate some of your main stressors/triggers, and reflect on how your body responds to them.  Once you know what those stressors are, and the way you feel in reaction to them, you can start thinking about ways in which to help mitigate those responses with mindfulness techniques.  Determine how you could incorporate the idea of a personal wellness plan into your daily life, not just the time spent in your classroom with your students.

Why is Teacher Wellness So Important?

Feeling emotionally and mentally depleted often leads to reduced productivity, a loss of interest in work, procrastination, and difficulty working collaboratively.  Those feelings can then lead to increased levels of guilt and negative self-talk.  

It becomes a vicious cycle.  

Teachers who are less stressed out are more likely to form close relationships with students, which leads to a positive increase in their achievement.  We spend so much time making sure everyone else is ok, but it is crucial to remember that we deserve to feel like the best versions of ourselves as well.

The bottom line is that self care is not selfish.  In fact, it could just be the very thing you need in order to help you be the best version of yourself, which will ultimately allow you to be more present for your students too.

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