The Well-Balanced Teacher, Part 1

Welcome to Part 1 of The Well-Balanced Teacher: How to Work Smarter and Stay Sane Inside the Classroom and Out Book Study!!
We'll be meeting for 4 sessions & would love for you to read along & join in the conversation! Get your copy of the book here.
Chapters 1-2: Tuesday, January 6th
Chapters 3-4:  Friday, January 9th
Chapters 5-6: Tuesday, January 13th
Chapter 7 & Final Thoughts: Friday, January 16th
Author Mike Anderson emphasizes the importance of managing stress in Chapter 1. I just googled "teacher stress" and 147,000,000 results popped up. 147 MILLION?! While Anderson cites various studies listing teaching as one of the most stressful professions, we don't need studies to tell us this! Those of us in the classroom know this fact. With the increased emphasis on test scores, larger class sizes, and more standards to cover in less time, teachers work longer hours to try & get it all done. Every teacher has his or her "teacher bag" or "teacher cart", where we haul home papers to grade (often to haul that same bag or cart back to school with papers untouched!!)
Anderson lists the cost of stress:
  • 46% higher annual health cost (Ingebretsen, 2005)
  • Teachers who are stressed take more sick days & are less productive (Van Der Linde, 2000)
  • Multiple physical ailments accompany stress: high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack & stroke, contribute to infertility, speed agin process, vulnerable to anxiety & depression (Smith, Jaffe-Gill, & Segal, 2009)

The most relatable example is the flight attendant on every airplane, showing passengers how to put on their oxygen mask in case of an emergency. They ALWAYS say to put on YOUR mask first before assisting others. Because our students' moods and attitudes are largely shaped by our (their teachers' ) energy and attitude, we must take good care of ourselves first!  We need to be healthy role models! I know I'm preaching to the choir, but this is easier said than done!!

Chapter 2, Meeting our Most Basic Needs, identifies basic needs as: food, water, exercise, sleep, safe physical environment, and spiritual needs.

Food: We are What We Eat
Schools always have yummy treats in the office, the staff lunchroom, or sweet students bringing us donuts, cupcakes, cookies. . . Teachers are notorious for grabbing something quick to eat, regardless if it's healthy or not. Each recess, many of us stay in to meet with students or catch up on grading or setting up for the next activity.  My school has a 40 minute lunch break (this includes the time to walk students to the lunch area, use the restroom, run to the office to return phone calls, copy papers, etc.) We wolf down our food, then off to work again. Healthy eating all comes down to planning. 

Although I HATE it, I assemble my lunch (& my daughter's lunch) the night before to avoid the morning's mad dash. I usually bring leftovers from dinner. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but breakfast is eaten in the car (for me: usually a kale/spinach & fruit smoothie with unsweetened almond milk & protein powder). My poor 9-year old once lamented, "I wish I could sit at the table to eat breakfast!" Bad Mom Award (but I reminded her that SHE could get up earlier & also make breakfast herself!!) Happy to say she has actually gotten up early enough to make scrambled eggs several times. (I also discovered pre-cooked bacon that you microwave for 45 seconds. Presto! Perfect bacon in under a minute!) Many markets also sell hard-boiled eggs already peeled! At school I keep small bags of almonds and cashews, as well as apples, yogurt and string cheese. The key is to have everything ready beforehand, so you don't have to think! Since many studies have proven it is better to eat several small meals a day, every couple of hours, we teachers are lucky. We have such a predictable schedule: eat breakfast, eat recess snack, eat lunch, eat after-school snack, eat dinner! And slow cookers are a working parent's best friend!! There are tons of recipes on Pinterest!
WATER. . . "Drinking enough water is one of the most basic things we can do to keep ourselves healthy. Good hydration can help cut the risk of disease, enhance mental clarity, improve digestion, relieve back & joint pain, and help control body weight. . ." (Rodgers, 2007) Although we know this, we have the problem of always being in charge of 20-40 kids and we can't leave the room!! Teachers are too-often the victims of urinary tract & bladder infections. I usually try to drink most of my water from 2:00 on. Enlist in the help of a neighbor teacher or classroom aide: let him or her know you need to run out so they can cover your class.

We all know the benefits of exercise, which releases endorphins: more energy, better mood, decreases risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. We, teachers, are usually pretty good about walking and exercising during summer. Once school starts, however, we never seem to have any more time!! There's a terrific 10-minute yoga video I try to start my mornings with; it helps to stretch and focus me before a busy school day. 
20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (5 days per week) is enough. We don't have to overdo the workout. But even finding those 20 minutes seems to be hard! Do you have 7 minutes to spare? We can all find 7 minutes in our day!! Check out The 7 Minute Workout (read more about it here). I do it with my class and find I have more energy also! During this Winter Break, I've also decided to start a Walking Club at school. Our students have 20 minutes to eat lunch, then 20 minutes to play. Twice a week I'm going to walk around our track during the second half of lunch and any students will be welcome to join me.  (Now that I'm putting this down in writing, I'll HAVE to follow through!!)
Another option that worked really well with teachers at my school was having a trainer come twice a week after school. We couldn't escape! (Once I get home from school, the last thing I want to do is get dinner ready, put my daughter to bed, then change into workout clothes and go to the gym!! And yes, I could work out at home; I have many DVDs but. . . not happening!!) Our trainer would show up half an hour after the bell (allowing time for us to change and shoo the kids out the door) and we'd work out for an hour. We laughed, complained, groaned, and encouraged each other. It was GREAT!!!  
After a couple of years, however, schedules and budgets did not allow for enough teachers to warrant a trainer coming, so a few times we tried to continue by watching an exercise DVD and working out in a classroom.

The Mayo Clinic and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend walking 10,000 steps per day for health benefits. Wearing a Fitbit or other pedometer can keep you on target for walking 10,000 steps per day! The important part is having accountability and support! (I have a friend who checks her Fitbit throughout the day & she'll  nag me cheer me on if it looks like I might end the day less than 10,000!)
"Sleep loss impairs memory and cognitive functioning, decreases performance and alertness, and increases people's risk for injury and illness." (Brews, 2006) Many studies recommend 7-8 hours per day of asleep for adults. This is one I'm still working on. . .

Take Care of Your Spirit
Find ways to disconnect from school! Don't drag home that teacher bag or cart (you won't touch it anyway!!) Your mental health and spiritual well-being is so important. Although it is so tempting to plop down on the couch and watch mindless TV, lounging slows circulation and metabolism, making you feel more sluggish.  According to The Academy of Sleep Medicine, people who tried to forget about their anxieties by watching television had a 4% increased risk of developing insomnia!  Get outside, commune with nature, take up a hobby, journal, listen to music, read a (non-teaching related) book, spend time focused on your family and friends.  ind a group with similar interests: hiking club, biking club, knitting club. . . Do you have a faith group? Join a church or synagogue; the amazing women in my weekly Bible Study keep me grounded. Anderson suggests bringing nature into the classroom: house plants, fish or a class pet (I tend to stay away from mammals. . . haven't had good luck with them!!). I also feel happy looking at framed pictures of my family and my "happy place" vacation spots, so there are lots of personal pictures in my classroom. It's important for our students to see our "real lives", too. We need to be mentally healthy, as well as physically healthy to be a well-balanced teacher!

What do you do to meet your basic needs?


  1. Love this post, in so many ways! I was looking for incorporating yoga into my routine again, so thanks for sharing. I've made this post a favorite so that I can reread it from time to time.

    4th Works

    1. I know. . . I always feel SO much better after doing yoga!! And the 10 minute routine, while short, at least starts off my day with movement! Thanks for stopping by, Mary!

  2. What a great post! Thanks for these reminders!

    1. Thanks, Deb! Even though we "know" what's good for us in our head, we (I, at least!) seem to need constant reminders to take care of ourselves!! :)