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Why Rest Is Important for Teachers

This school year was more than hard work, a marathon, or nonstop. It was without comparison. For educators, this summer break is a crucial time to heal, grieve, and take more time for you.

By The TFA Editorial Team

June 26, 2020

Teacher sitting by the water.

Taking a moment to recharge and nurture yourself is excellent for your mental health and avoiding teacher burnout. It's also a vital way to ensure you have a reserve of patience, perspective, and empathy to help students who will be looking to you for much-needed support in the coming school year. 

We spoke with Tamara Pearson from Practice Freedom Project, which offers classes, workshops, and retreats to help educators manage stress, about why rest is important, and what ways teachers can incorporate it into their lives.

Given the current climate we are in, why is it important to make space for healing?

I come from the philosophy of you can only help to heal others if you are healing yourself. Teachers were asked to immediately move on to the next thing as opposed to being given time and space to heal. 

In one weekend, teachers were being asked to quickly transition into healing students and being a safe space for students, but they have to first heal themselves. They first have to deal with whatever it is that they are feeling. I talked about this in one of my Yoga for Teachers classes. One of our intentions of the week was grief and the importance of just taking time to grieve what you have lost whether it’s contact with your students or the ability to properly say goodbye the way that we normally do at the end of the year.

Why is it important for educators to prioritize rest in summer?

Teachers are starting to make the transition to, "How do I begin to help my students when they come back?" The first thing, no matter whether you teach the most affluent or students that live in extreme poverty, every student has been experiencing trauma over these last few months at different levels. It’s important to process your own trauma and grieve, so you can be there to support your students as well as be prepared to talk about racism and white privilege, and white supremacy and Black Lives Matter, which calls for teachers to process their own internal implicit biases. This means grieving, processing, and thinking about your life and the things you've experienced.

I believe that through stillness and rest, you're able to acknowledge trauma, pain, and grief, process that grief, and then move forward. Until you stop moving, you can't really know what you are experiencing. Often, and this is not unique to teachers, we have a habit of running away from our feelings. 

Fall is going to be serious for educators. So, if you don't take the summer to rest, there's not going to be another time. We have to be ready. Our children get one shot, and we owe it to our students to come back ready for what they need. If we spend the entire summer on the go, we're going to be very tired when our kids either log on to that Zoom or walk into our classrooms, and we're not going to be ready to be able to hold space for them in the way that they're going to need.

Distractions simply buy time. They give a break from stress or pain, but it is still there after. Rest is saying, "I'm going to take time for myself to heal myself."

What can rest look like?

I think it can look like a lot of different things. For instance, there is something called The Nap Ministry, which focuses on napping as a form of radical resistance, by saying I am not going to be a part of this society that says that I have to constantly be doing. 

Napping is one option. Rest is also the sense of not doing things that are actively seen as productive. Whether that's, I'm going to listen to music, dancing around your house, or reading a book that's not related to your work. It can also be meditation. 

It’s important to identify what activities in your life are dedications and what are distractions. 

Distractions can be shopping, binge-watching things on TV, on Netflix, or eating unhealthy food, working more, or going on social media. These are things that feel good at the moment, but you need more of--if I constantly need more of something, I know it’s not actually feeding me. That's where dedications come in. For example, my dedications are reading, listening to good music, listening to good music, dancing by myself to music, yoga, meditation, and discovering new outfits in my own wardrobe rather than shopping.

Why do you feel it’s tough sometimes for educators to make time for themselves? 

There are a few reasons. One, I think there are very few professions where you are expected to put yourself before others. Glorifying the idea that teachers are these altruistic beings that are just there for the kids can create some guilt. After all, there is always going to be someone who needs you. When I was a teacher, it wasn't ever explicitly said to me, but there was this unspoken thought that was pervasive, and I think it is still pervasive. Look at what happens when teachers go on strike, right? How many people are actually behind the teachers? Teachers deserve a fair living wage, just like everybody else, but the expectation is that you're not supposed to be there for the money. Why would you be asking for more money? All of that builds up within a teacher's psyche of saying, "I have to come last."

That's the kind of external piece. The internal part is, I think, is the kind of person that becomes a teacher is a very giving person, and that person needs to be mindful of how much they are giving to others versus how much they're giving to themselves.

If I were a teacher looking to take the first step in incorporating rest into my daily routine, what are some ways I could start?

Your first step could be simply waking up just a little earlier than you usually do, so you're not rushing in the morning.  If you're a teacher, and you have to be at work at 8:15, and you wake up at 7:30, your day becomes go-go-go from the moment you walk out the door. 

When you have time in the morning, you're able to move a lot more slowly and purposefully. That impacts the rest of your day. It's the same as if you are running into a meeting; it takes about 15 minutes into that meeting before you can even focus on what's even being said. If you're moving more purposefully through your life, then you're able to be in the moment of where you are in every moment. 

Once you give yourself space and time, you'll begin to notice what's happening around you and the world. You'll become more appreciative. It's just like those baby steps of slowing yourself down so that you can take more of what's happening. Also, it gives you more time to process what you are taking in and put it into perspective. 

Some Resources Tamara Recommends

Resources & Support for Teachers During the Pandemic

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