Small Steps for Self-Care in Troubling Times - National Council of Teachers of English
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Small Steps for Self-Care in Troubling Times

These tips were shared by NCTE member Yvonne El Ashmawi in 2017 in The Council Chronicle (December 2017.) 


This year is turning out to be a heavy one, with the US and many other locales reeling from conflicts and natural disasters. Much has been written about how to have difficult conversations with our students and how to offer support and stability to students in uncertain times. Much less has been written about how to support teachers in tending to their own self-care. Beyond the issue of keeping brilliant, committed teachers in the field and thriving, self-care matters because you matter. Here are a few tips to get you started.


Permission to feel stressed, worried, tired, frustrated, sad, afraid, overwhelmed, all of it. Permission to admit you had a bad day, or you’re off your game, or you don’t know what the next right step is. Permission to seek out support from friends, colleagues, family, and health experts. Permission to spend time, energy, and resources on yourself. Permission to acknowledge everything about how you feel, what you need to be happy and whole, and what you desire.


While many things that happen in our classroom can be fixed, life’s larger questions and the local and global challenges that we face collectively and individually cannot be fixed during fourth-period English. And our students know this. When they share something stressful, painful, scary, frustrating, or disheartening, release yourself from the obligation to fix what is wrong. Avoid phrases like “it will all work out for the best” or “everything will be ok.” Instead, develop a listening heart and attentive ear, because what we can offer students is solidarity and understanding. This doesn’t mean that you can’t advocate for social change that would benefit our communities, but that you release yourself from the burden of fixing things that are beyond your capacity or reach.


When we get busy, we often take shallow breaths. Take a moment to check in with yourself. Observe how you are breathing in this moment, without making any changes. Once you are aware of the current rhythm of your breath, gift yourself three deep breaths, three long inhales that start deep down in the belly, and three long exhales.


Stuck indoors all day? Give yourself five minutes outside. Allow yourself to come to the present moment by just looking around and observing what you see, hear, and feel. Our work can be heady and busy; going outside is one way to disengage from that, catch your breath, and then begin again.


Want to make bigger changes that support your well-being? The bigger the desired change, the smaller the initial one should be. Want to get to school an hour earlier every day? Pick one day a week where you arrive just five or ten minutes earlier. Celebrate the win and pick another tiny change.


Yvonne El Ashmawi is a clinical assistant professor of middle and secondary English Education in the School of Education, Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois.





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