Teacher Self-Care: A Community Effort
By Jaja Chen
I often hear individuals make comments about teachers that make it seem as if they have it “well off” because of having summer vacations. While having summer off is a crucial part of teachers’ self-care and work-life balance, we often do not sit and consider the amount of energy, finances, or even time that teachers dedicate throughout the school year – year after year – to managing their classrooms and educating our children daily.
Oftentimes, teachers’ own self-care goes by the wayside because of the immense amount of needs they must tend to in their classrooms, amongst students, and to meet all the tasks and demands they face as a teacher – even outside of the classroom. This can lead to summer being used to “catch up” on sleep, health, and self-care.
While summer can be a huge part of teacher self-care, my hope is that summer is not the ONLY time when teachers are able to take care of themselves.
Here are three ways we as a community can seek to support our teachers in self-care as they return to the new school year:
1.) Honor and encourage our teachers – Coming from a Taiwanese background, educators are highly honored, valued, and esteemed. The culture of honor that East Asian cultures place on teachers is something we can learn from. How can we honor and encourage our teachers throughout the school year? Rather than making comments about how good they have it or how they shouldn’t complain about difficulties on the job due to having summer off, how can we seek to listen to and support our teachers as they deal with ongoing work-life stress?
2.) Support healing from secondary trauma & burnout – Compassion fatigue is a common experience amongst helping professionals and is a combination of secondary trauma and burnout. Secondary trauma occurs when we continually hear about or witness, directly or indirectly, traumatic events that occur to others. Working with students and families daily exposes teachers to traumatic events and can lead to secondary trauma. Burnout, on the other hand, is feelings of ongoing exhaustion and helplessness due to inefficiencies experienced in our jobs. When our teachers experience compassion fatigue, do we judge them or do we seek to understand? Do we point them to resources, such as individual counseling, or do we shame them? As administrators, do we seek to create policies and school cultures that enhance and support teacher self-care? Are we open to our teachers taking time off for their mental health or do we stigmatize mental health recovery?
3.) Volunteer for local school efforts & initiatives – Ensuring that our students and schools are successful and thriving is a community effort. Teachers are not the sole guardians for our children’s mental, emotional, physical health, and educations. We all have a role to play in our communities as we support teachers in their self-care. Part of this is seeing how we can play a role in supporting school initiatives, school events, and to inquire about ways to support schools as volunteers. Recognizing that we have a part to play in supporting our schools helps reduce the burdens placed on teachers to be everything to our children. Ways to be involved include supporting mentoring and tutoring programs that non-profit organizations-including Communities in Schools (CIS) and Prosper Waco – host for local schools. Local churches may also have after-school programs or book clubs to support children such as the STARS Mentoring Program.
The success of our schools requires a community effort.
What are ways you can support your local school today? And if giving of your time and/or finances is not a possibility, are there ways to connect with a fellow teacher and to encourage them as they begin their new school year. My hope is that the task of teacher self-care is seen as a community effort, not just placed on teachers themselves to figure out. There are ways that our culture and perspectives can hinder teachers from thriving in the amazing work they do. Let’s strive for creating a culture of compassion, authenticity, and empathy, as opposed to shame.
Jaja Chen, LMSW, CDWF is a private practice therapist in Waco through Enrichment Training & Counseling Solutions specializing in trauma, compassion fatigue, maternal mental health, and difficult life transitions. As an EMDR Trained Therapist, Jaja’s passion is walking alongside helping professionals whom are healing from PTSD, depression, anxiety, secondary trauma, and burnout. Jaja can be contacted via email at Jaja@enrichmenttcs.com or via webpage at http://enrichmenttcs.com/meet-jaja-chen/