Self-Care: Crying In Your Car Is Not Enough

Cat assisting with self-care

My cat is a champion of my engaging in self-care, sitting on my grading when she feels I’ve spent too much time doing that and not enough time letting her sit on my lap.

Working with teachers who are in their first year of the NYC Teaching Fellows program this year has really highlighted for me the importance of self-care for teachers–especially new teachers. A couple of them brought up the NPR Ed piece called “Hey New Teachers, It’s OK to Cry in Your Car,” which is a terrible title. It did, however, have a lot of good advice for first year teachers regarding self-care.

That made me think: If I could travel back in time ten years and give advice to myself as a first year teacher, there are a few things I would make sure I did during my first year of teaching instead of spending the time up until February break skipping the self-care strategies and throwing myself into work. I dealt with my stress through a combination of long showers, Two-Buck Chuck, crying on the A Train, and ice cream. That obviously wasn’t sustainable.

Only take home as much work as you can feasibly do in 2 hours or less

It takes time to calibrate this, but it’s really important. Carting more work than you can do back and forth from school each day makes you feel unsuccessful and frustrated. It might actually take the first two or three months of school to figure that out, but once you do, set that boundary and stick to it. Even before you figure out where that boundary is, set a timer and don’t work past that.

Get enough exercise

Seriously. Start an exercise routine: biking, running, yoga, Pilates, swimming, CrossFit, mall walking, martial arts. It doesn’t matter what. Just do it. For me it works especially well if I exercise between then end of the school day and starting my grading or planning.


Set yourself a bedtime and stick to it. Really. It doesn’t matter how much grading you have. Unless you’ve decided to…

Make time to spend with friends

My first year of teaching, I sometimes got so wrapped up in work (or feeling stressed about work) that I forgot to see my friends. That made me feel disconnected and lonely, and it caused me to get even more wrapped up in all of the negative things about my first year. Make a monthly date with a close friend and stick to it. I still do this with my friend Kate.

Just because you can be in the building until 7 PM…

Some schools kick you out, others don’t, but set yourself a curfew and don’t stay past a certain hour. I had a key my first year. It was bad. Some of us work best if we take a break between school and doing more work, some of us don’t. Either way, set a time when you’re going to stop doing work and go out or change gears.


Yes, of course, read articles in professional journals and the books you’re teaching to your class, but also make sure to read books that are for you. Books that remind you of what you love about reading, and what you’re interested in outside of school. Develop a readers’ life apart from the books that you’ll recommend to your kids.

Eat good food

Learn a couple of simple recipes, or get a crockpot and make yourself good, healthy food for your lunches and dinner. Don’t live off of takeout just because you’re busy.

Find your flow

Resurrect a hobby you let go of or learn a new skill: knitting, gaming, bread making, canning, sewing, painting, dancing, making music, photography, martial arts, running. Whatever it is that helps you to really be in a state of flow, do it. Schedule time for it. Make it a priority. Share it with your students.

Let go of your mistakes

The most important piece of advice from that NPR segment that I would reiterate to new teachers (and have tried to reinforce to my first year Teaching Fellows–I’m forcing them to read this for their last class. I’m hoping they’ll tell me if I did it enough): I’m still in touch with kids I had my first year of teaching, and they’re not  scarred for life by the myriad of mistakes I made during that first year. Just to be clear: I made A LOT of mistakes during my first year I run into them around the city in all sorts of unexpected places. I’m friends with a few of them who are in their 20s on Facebook. I get emails from some who are in college. They’re all OK. Even the ones I worried wouldn’t be OK.

But I don’t have time for self-care…

Make the time. I’ve been telling my 8th graders all week that winter break is a great time for a reset. It can be a great time for a reset for teachers too.

How do you engage in self-care? If you don’t think you are yet, how will you make it a priority in the new year?

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