Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is balance and health possible to achieve when you teach?

I left teaching 13 years ago because I was getting burned out. Burned out and sick. I could not see myself staying in the teaching profession for the rest of my career. I got so overwhelmed and behind in paperwork, that I missed the renewal notice for my teaching certification. I lost my job which forced me to find a new one. It was a blessing in disguise.

I got a new job working for a regional education service center as a literacy and technology specialist. During my time off from teaching in the classroom, I became the healthiest I had ever been in my adulthood. I found time to learn about good nutrition and health, slowly incorporating healthy food, exercise and balance into my life.

As I spent time in schools all across Connecticut, I noticed so many of the teachers I met seemed to sacrifice their own health needs for their teaching career.  Many teachers were not eating well, they were gaining weight in their hips and bellies and getting sick often. They were stressed, out of balance and overwhelmed. They ignored the signals that their bodies are giving them  which can eventually lead to illness. It seemed that teachers just accept that fact that during the school year they will give up healthy habits and make up for it in the summer.

After 10 years of working for the educational service center, I came to realize that I needed to return to the classroom. Although I was really good at nurturing my health, I was no longer serving my spirit. I was being asked to provide training and support for state mandates, and I did not want to be an advocate of practices that I did not believe served our students. I knew in my heart that teaching kids was where I was meant to be. I needed to be true to my beliefs about teaching and learning, and the only place I felt I could truly do that, was in the classroom. I promised myself that when I went back to teaching, I would find balance between teaching and my life, keeping my optimal health a priority.

My first year back was extremely stressful and hard on my health. I realized that it was the first year, and it would get better as I learned about the new school, the curriculum and got myself organized. The second year was better, but bad health habits were starting to creep in. I often stayed late even though I was exhausted at the end of the day. I nibbled on chocolate provided at meetings, grabbed treats left in the staff room and rewarded myself with candy at the end of the day. I cut down on exercise, making deals with myself that I'd catch up on the weekends. My home life suffered because I was either too busy preparing for school or too tired. I told myself that it was the second year and it would get better.

The third year I became chronically ill. I had come down with a virus in the spring that led to laryngitis. The cough that followed the virus never left me. I had it all summer and still had it when I returned to school. After seeing a pulmonologist, an allergist, and a gastroenterologist and going on inhalers, allergy meds, and acid reducers, I decided I needed to take a good look at my own health habits. I knew that I was never going to get well if I could not achieve balance in all aspects of my life.

So, is balance and health possible to achieve when you are a dedicated teacher? I believe it is. And I am going to work to achieve it. It will take a conscious effort to look carefully at the things that bring me stress and work at ways to eliminate those stress-ers. It will mean carefully noticing how I respond to stress and make changes that help me deal with it in a healthier way. Most of all, achieving health will mean adding healthy habits to all aspects of my life; at home and at school.

What do you do to stay healthy and balanced during the school year?

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