3 Ways to Ramp Up Your Emotional Health This Summer

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photo via Wikimedia Commons

It’s summertime, and that brings the promise of relaxation, recuperation, and time spent away from the classroom. It’s time to think about your emotional health.

Of course, the reality for most of us is quite different. Yes, summer means that we aren’t driving to school every day, but what typically happens is a great deal of professional development and growth. Courses, additional qualifications, conferences, workshops, you name it. Educators in 2016 are packing their summers full of learning.

A close friend of mine, here in Ontario, just finished getting his qualifications to be an administrator. He and I were discussing the pros and cons of filling our summers with courses, and he said something that stuck with me.

On the second last day of his course, three new administrators were brought in for a Q and A panel, and apparently all three of them said that if they could do their first year of administration over, they’d take better care of their emotional health.

My friend said, “I’m constantly amazed that professional educators, adults who, for a living, take care of the emotional health of children, neglect their own [emotional health].”

He’s right, too. 100%. I have worked at almost ten schools in my career, and gotten to know dozens of colleagues well, and very few of us — myself included — escape stress, burnout, and depression. We do not have the luxury of a 9-5 job with the ability to leave work at work until we arrive the next day, and that can do a number on our mental health.

Don’t get me wrong, I willingly signed up for this profession and I love it immensely despite all of this. But I have learned some tricks over the years that have allowed me to ensure that I am my best self, physically and emotionally, every time I set foot in my classroom, and I want to share those with you.

3 Ways to Ramp Up Your Emotional Health

1 – The Power of 3: This one is a big one for me, and likely for many. I have found that there are three things in my life that I cannot do without. Every time I compromise one of these three things, my life is more stressful, work is less fun, and I find myself counting down the days until summer. That’s not fair to my students!

For me, the three things are: swimming regularly (I am a former competitive swimmer and swimming has become a tonic), doing some coaching with the swim club (my most successful teaching years were years when I was coaching part-time), and playing/composing music (I was once in a band and the creative fulfilment it provided me with was amazing). Stupidly, last year I didn’t do any of the three and had one of my most challenging years of my career. I won’t be making that mistake again. What are three things you can’t do without?

2 – Taking a course? Know your Purpose: Why are you taking courses this summer, or during the school year? There are many reasons that make the extra time spent completely worthwhile, such as being paid more, getting prerequisites for a particular position you want, or because you love learning! Often times, though, we can feel pressured to take courses or attend conferences because we’re trying to “get ahead,” or impress someone, like an administrator. I have done this a few times, and I did not enjoy the experiences.

Had I gone into the courses with a better mindset, I would have gotten far more from them. Instead, I look back and wish I’d spent more time with family and friends those summers. If you are taking a course because you feel you “should,” think twice. Make sure you truly want to.

3 – Let someone else pay! Money can be a huge source of stress for people, and the pressure to take courses can put financial strain on us. There are options, though, that many do not know exist. I teach in Ontario, and the Ministry of Education is currently offering reimbursement to teachers who take qualifications courses in math or in technology. My board is offering reimbursement for math courses. My Federation offers a sum of money every year on a first come first serve basis for non-qualifications courses or workshops.

There are tons of free and inexpensive webinars that we can take without leaving our homes. Our money, and our time, are extremely valuable. Let someone else pay for your learning if you can!

None of the above things are earth-shattering pieces of advice, they are simply things I’ve learned the hard way. Emotional health is one of the most challenging things to maintain in the teaching profession. We spend a great deal of time bettering ourselves professionally, but too few of us spend an equal amount of time bettering ourselves emotionally.

I encourage you to share your thoughts and anecdotes below, and would love to hear from you.

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Tom Fuke

Longtime teacher Tom Fuke is passionate about true education transformation--replacing grades with feedback, student-centered learning, and valuing creativity as much as literacy and numeracy. He is also interested in gender norms and the move toward more empathetic, compassionate male teachers. Tom is a former national level competitive swimmer, and has been coaching young athletes since 1996. He lives with his wife in Ontario.
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