A few years ago, I wrote a blog called "Self-Care for Teachers" as a part of my Self-Care Saturday series. Since then it has been consistently the most read page on my website. Teachers are seeking resources to take care of themselves so they can re-enter the classroom day after day and teach dozens of students. Personally, I want to say a quick thank you to all the teacher who read this blog. I am grateful for the work you do. You are changing the world.
The Nashville Self-Care Series is the conversation that I wanted to have with successful Nashville women because I wanted to know how are you taking care of yourself while you balance work, relationships, and everyday stressors. Elizabeth Brewer McAnally is one of the women that I have been having these types of conversations with for over twenty years. She works hard in the classroom all day and continuously looks for new and better ways to support her students. I am excited to share her self-care stories.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
The day starts mostly in the dark with the alarm at 4:45 and then in increments of 15 minutes until I can crawl out of bed. I’m a morning person, but even that early every day is brutal. I like to get to work (across town) around 6:15ish because doors open at 6:45 and it’s mostly a slog from there. I have taught for the past nine years in an “urban” public school that serves one of the most diverse populations in the state. I teach leadership classes and college-prep classes and this year had the great misfortune to be also saddled with the yearbook. I teach six different classes with individual curriculum for each. I have students all day, 1 to 2 meetings, and then I usually stay after school to work with kids for Student Government activities. While I have always loved my job, it’s exhausting. You prep for several different 75-minute classes and then it starts all over again the next day. Then there’s the grading, the wiping down of desks, grading, meetings, grading, and then if there is any time left in the day, more grading. Without launching into my personal philosophy of teaching, I can say that days are busy (which I like). Every day is a combination of frustrating situations, hectic transitions, laughing with the students and making jokes, consoling someone having a bad day, and trying to remember to eat something.
What are some daily, weekly, or annual/seasonal self-care practices that are beneficial to you?
Daily: if I don’t have to work super late, I come home and rest for about two episodes of something calming. The trade-off with starting work so early is that we end early, and I get to come home and have a few hours to myself before my husband comes home. As anyone who “talks” for a living (all day, every day), I just want to come home and be quiet for a little while. I don’t even mind household chores as long as I can do them quietly! I need a few hours and then I’m ready to converse with Scott by the time he gets home. Also, I married someone recently who makes me laugh every day. I guess I have been missing out on the social interactions after work since I lived by myself for four years, but marrying someone as hilarious as Scott and laughing together every day has been so nice! Oh yes, and I eat the same things every day. I need the routine. So the students make fun of me because I eat the same things, every day, at the same time of day. A routine is a form a self-care that provides a lot of mental stability and control. All teachers love control!
Random self-care practices: I am a big fan of shopping (teacher budget: clearance aisle, of course) and eating. I use to come home to a glass of wine but now just limit myself to the weekends for the fruit of the vine. I have practiced yoga on and off for several years and desperately miss a regular practice (hope to find a place close to home to practice). I really enjoy cooking- especially baking while listening to a good murder podcast (eek! Only on sunny days because I get freaked out very easily). I may be just rambling on things that bring me pleasure, but these are all things I’m able to do that soothe me. And I can do most of them by myself! Am I turning into an introvert?!
How have self-care practices impacted your life and work?
My job is demanding. I encounter so many sad things on a day to day basis. Some of my students have been through more traumatic experiences in their 16 years than many will go through in a lifetime. If you can imagine a job where in a single day you might want to cry, laugh out loud, throw heavy objects across the room, hug everyone, and then sneak out the back door early, that is teaching. So I MUST have self-care practices that are healthy. Self-care is essential to being able to show up the next day and give more of yourself. There is a lot of “pouring out of yourself” and it is up to you and only you to fill yourself back up. Just this past Thursday I took a “mental health day.” I slept in, drank coffee from a mug (instead of a travel mug) and made breakfast, took my time getting ready (in the daylight) and was able to get caught up on emails and ahead on some work from the comfort of my own home. It is sad when you have to take a day off from work to get caught up on work from home.
What are some obstacles in this season of life that make self-care a challenge?
It is definitely a challenge to adjust to a new life style. Getting married and moving across town has definitely upset my old routines. And I am a definitely a routine person, and I’m in the middle of moving everything over to the west side (finding a yoga place, finding instructors you like, etc). I married an extremely social person, and he could be busy on Saturdays all day from waking up till midnight. I, on the other hand, have to take social breaks and have down time on the weekends.
Are there any practices of self-care that you are implementing in 2018?
First thing I’m trying is “saying no” to extra assignments or requests at work. I’ve said “yes” to so much and it has opened up amazing opportunities, introduced me to some wonderful people, and pushed me to grow in many ways I never would have if I had stayed in my classroom. But now I want to refocus my work time on my classroom and my students. So I am learning to say “thanks for thinking of me, but no thanks!” It’s hard because I want to please people, take leadership roles, and be “in the mix” as much as I can. Learning to say “no” more will hopefully keep me less stressed. I have also been reading books on meditation, and I want to start a practice.
***I use to be the teacher who organized group outings for teachers after-hours. Think “happy hour drinks” which occasionally turned into dinner but always morphed into a time to complain and voice our frustrations with every aspect of teaching (from minor student misbehaviors to larger scale “Why does society disrespect educators these days?” topics). While commiserating with some of my favorite people who were “in the trenches” with me use to feel cathartic and helpful, I’ve come to realize over the past year or two that the negativity infused in these conversations did nothing to help with the actual problems. It made things worse! I started to notice that younger teachers were growing so disillusioned with education they were considering leaving the profession—and my comments may have encouraged this! It is very hard not to complain and commiserate with my coworkers, but in the name of “self-care,” I have been finding myself bowing out of after-hours sessions.
How does your industry/field practice or promote self-care?
Metro Nashville Public Schools opened up a fancy gym near my school at district headquarters- unfortunately our school is one of the closest schools to the gym (very lucky!). Many teachers would have to drive 45 minutes to an hour just to attend the free gym, but I appreciate the gesture. They offer free exercise classes, yoga/Pilates, strength training and more. I’ve been several times and while it is small, it’s clean and new AND spouses can use the gym as well. At Glencliff specifically there are more initiatives to give teachers a place to de-stress, talk about issues that are troubling them, and just get out of their classroom. We have a wonderful support staff who regularly schedules after-school work out sessions in the weight room for teachers only and yoga practices as well. I have seen the administration take more seriously teacher mental health and attempt to listen more and build more of a culture of appreciation for us.
How would your industry/field look different if self-care was a core value?
People outside of education love to point out that teachers have no reason to complain since we have summers off and so much time off in the school year. Those in education know that time is so crucial to restorative self-care. I probably should not use this place to launch into my opinions on how society perceives teachers and how we are held solely accountable for student achievement while parents and students are no longer asked to share in the responsibility. But I will say that treating teachers with more respect, taking the position seriously by paying teachers a higher salary, and trusting us to do our jobs would significantly change education. In terms of “self-care as a core value,” the education field needs to invest in professional developments that encourages teachers to find healthy ways to de-stress. This could take the form of de-escalation training (teaching educators how to de-escalate a potentially volatile situation) as well as providing a time and space for teachers to de-stress in healthy, productive ways. It sounds crazy, but this past year during final exams, our FFA teacher brought baby chicks inside for teachers to visit with (cheap pet therapy). If the powers that be in education put an emphasis on teacher “self-care,” then the classrooms might be more inviting to students.
Are there any books/movies/songs that are currently life-giving for you?
I’ve been on a mediation kick. Jon Kabat Zinn’s books and Dan Harris have currently been on my audiobook list. Also, this may not count but my girlfriends from college have all been on a Facebook message thread for over ten years where we keep up with each other. That continues to be a huge life-giving force for me through the years. You’ll never have any friendships like your girlfriends from college.
Elizabeth Brewer McAnally – born in Knoxville, TN, Lipscomb University graduate by way of Knox County Public Schools. Full-time educator, part-time and unofficial counselor, event coordinator, janitor, IT specialist, life coach, mediator, fund-raiser, and field trip coordinator. Mrs. Brewer McAnally has taught at Glencliff High school for nine years devoting the first five to History and Government and the past four to College Prep and Leadership classes. She considers it a huge honor to be able to work with some of Metro Nashville Public School’s finest young people.