Teacher Talk: How I’m Prioritizing My Mental Health

Summer break is a great time to relax, recharge, and reflect — a moment to take a breath and let go of all the worries and anxieties that take a toll during the academic year. Many non educators envy our summer and holiday vacations. “Oh, it must be so nice to have the summers off,” they say. What most don’t realize is that we need these summers off. Teaching is one profession where you have to take work home in order to work at work. We go from teaching classes all day to potentially running extracurriculars after school to going home and planning for the next day’s lesson. That doesn’t include answering emails, grading student work, calling home to families, displaying student work, or analyzing student data. A lot of hours are spent working outside of the 7:30 AM to 3:30 PM school day.

During the school year I am “on” all day, every day thinking about my students, classroom and curriculum. There are hardly any moments to stop and reflect or to even realize that I am multitasking to the extreme and operating on maximum. Then I eventually come to a break, a complete halt, and my mind and body finally have a chance to catch up. Typically, I get sick or end up sleeping for an unusual number of hours. Then once I am recovered, it starts all over again. Now I know this doesn’t sound too healthy, and it probably isn’t, but this academic year I plan to make some changes to prioritize me.

First, I am going to practice saying “no.” No to commitments I am not interested in, projects I am not invested in, and additional work I am not adequately compensated for. I am always one of the first people to say yes or to volunteer for something without thinking about the time commitment and what it would entail. By saying “no” more often, I will leave room for the things I care most about. I would rather give my all to fewer things than give less than my best to a lot of things.

I am going to pick one day a week where I don’t do any work and prioritize myself. Typically, I spend my weekends lesson planning, building out curriculum and grading. This work still needs to get done, but rather than spend both Saturday and Sunday working, I plan to try and get more work done during the week and pick only one day on the weekend to work. This will leave more time for me to recharge and mentally prepare for the next week.

I am going to spend more time doing things that I love, whether that is signing up for fitness classes, going on a walk, spending time with friends, talking on the phone to family, watching a soccer game, going to a concert, or just hanging out at home watching Netflix. I need to be intentional about doing these things and scheduling them in my calendar to ensure that they happen. Many times I don’t realize how rejuvenated I feel after spending time doing things I love. Taking the time to do these things will make me a better person and teacher.

I am going to make the most out of my vacations. I feel like I have become an expert on this one, but I pledge to continue because I know that makes me happy and I always come back rejuvenated. For me, making the most out of my vacation time means planning ahead and scheduling out my vacations. I mark our days off on my calendar, grab my travel wish list and start tracking flights. Making the most out of my vacations doesn’t always include a plane ride, staycations count too! Whether it is a weekend trip, a staycation, or a trip abroad, it is always fun to have something on the calendar to look forward to.

This school year I plan to make my mental health a priority. I know that I will be a better person and teacher because of it. For my fellow educators, how do you plan to prioritize your mental health this school year? I urge you to take care of yourself and speak up about your needs. Your students (and you) deserve the best version of you!

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Chelsea Culbert

Chelsea Culbert

Chelsea Culbert is a proud product of New York public schools where she graduated with her International Baccalaureate diploma. She went off to attain her B.A. in Chemistry with concentrations in Public Health and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies at NYU. While at NYU, she started the chapter of “Strive for College,” a non-profit organization that connects college students as mentors to assist high schoolers throughout the college application and financial aid processes. Immediately after graduation, Chelsea pursued her teaching career with Teach for America Los Angeles. While teaching, Chelsea completed her Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University. Chelsea is currently teaching at her Teach for America placement school in Lincoln Heights where she serves as Department Instructional Lead, Instructional Leadership Team member, and coaches Varsity soccer.

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