All I need is butcher paper, a stapler, and an empty bulletin board to make me happy. I don’t come off as the artsy type and will give people secondhand embarrassment at any of my attempts to draw. However, I can intuitively manipulate paper and miscellaneous objects to create a wonderful display—and as a corps member, I’ve channeled that creativity into a loving obsession with my bulletin boards, providing me a form of self care that also benefits my students.
Once I see an image in my head, either from my own imagination or Pinterest, I can use whatever I have nearby to craft that display. I plug in my headphones and tune out the world for hours while working on my bulletin board. For me, making a bulletin board is like hitting the restart button; my bulletin boards represent physical markers of the school year going by. From the corny “fall into the new year” display in August to February’s “I love to read a latte,” the school year is enhanced thanks to some staples and punch-out letters.
Making bulletin boards is a way for me to show love for myself, while also enhancing my students’ experience in the process. I consider it a form of self-care.
I can’t stress enough how essential self-care is to teachers, but talking about it and putting it into practice are two different things. Mentioning self-care to a corps member is tricky, and I recently heard a first-year teacher sum up exactly why: “People tell me to practice self-care all the time, and it’s frustrating, because I ask, with what time? I work all day and on the nights I have a little bit of time I’ll put on a sheet mask and try to relax, but I can’t because I’m still thinking about work. It’s like we never clock out.”
Teaching is not a 9-5 job. Once you enter a field where your work directly impacts the lives of others, it’s difficult to separate yourself from your work without feeling “teacher guilt.” We corps member tend to feel guilty taking time for ourselves. We feel guilty not spending every bit of their time and energy doing everything in our power to improve the lives of the children we teach. It’s all consuming, it’s inevitable, it’s teacher guilt.
But as teachers, we cannot work to our fullest capacity if we cannot care for ourselves. We cannot do our all for our students if our own wellbeing is tenuous. One of the most powerful skills I’ve gained in my second year is that I can mentally clock out of work. However, mentally clocking out is not the same as zoning out. It’s not about becoming dissociative, but rather it’s to embrace the different parts of yourself that aren’t related to your job.
Separating yourself from the physical space isn’t going to guarantee leaving the stress at school, and I don’t actually feel like that’s necessary. Mentally clocking out—and in turn, focusing on self-care—can be school based. And that doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad teacher. That’s just the teacher guilt talking.
Bulletin boards are one of my school-based self-care practices, among many. You can have lunch talking to your co-workers about anything but work, you can go for a walk around your neighborhood, you can listen to a podcast during your prep period. Whatever it is, I encourage you to find what works for you and find those small joys in and around your classroom.
Everything we do doesn’t have to be related to productivity, so repeat after me: Taking care of yourself doesn’t make you a bad teacher. Taking care of yourself is a benefit to your students, not a detriment. And taking care of yourself may be easier, and closer, than you think.
At the end of the day, it is easier said than done, and I recognize that. As for me, I’m fortunate enough to have found it for myself and will take a stapler over a face mask any day.
Alyssa Fernandez is a born-and-raised Texan now working in Connecticut as a 2017 corps member.