#TchWellness: Putting On Our Own Oxygen Masks

Getting Better TogetherThis entry is the first post in the series #TchWellness.

Routinely, come August, I begin gearing up for a new school year. Hopeful, optimistic, and slightly scared, I plan for everything from bulletin boards to first day introductions to waking up earlier. As a mother, I’m buying backpacks, scheduling daycare, and mentally preparing my children for their new year (this fall I have a kindergartner and a 1st grader). Needless to say, our household is bustling with energy and excitement.

This summer has also allowed me time to reflect on the past school year. Last year, I ran a “Getting Better Together” campaign (#TchStressAway) on reducing stress. One of my final takeaways was that my focus was inherently incorrect. While I focused on reducing my stress, I learned my energy really needed to be spent finding strategies to adequately manage the stress that was unavoidable. Now when I encounter stressful moments, I’ve mentally prepared for them and use the feelings of adversity to propel me forward and awaken me to new opportunities on the horizon.

To build upon this takeaway, I’m now focused on overall teacher wellness. The realities of the education profession are worrisome. In my home state of Washington, a quarter of principals report they were unable to fill an open teacher position and 44% were unable to fill a classroom position with a teacher who met all qualifications. While I understand that retirees and teachers leaving the field are an important part of this figure, I’m most concerned about the number of college students who aren’t choosing education at all, choosing different career paths instead. For example, California lost 22,000 enrolled teacher candidates (or 53%) between 2008 and 2013. Though much of this was likely in response to the Great Recession and extensive teacher layoffs, we, as a profession, and I, as a mother, should be concerned about our future ability to educate our youth, simply in terms of the number of individuals willing to teach.

Admittedly, I’m guilty of rhetoric that discourages new teachers. I’ve heard a young individual exclaim that they want to be a teacher, and I’ve tried to encourage them, but steer them to more lucrative careers or less stressful positions. I now understand the negative impact of this response and I want to get to the bottom of this attitude and eradicate it.

After much consideration, I think this somewhat negative attitude is a reflection of my frustration and, at times, dissatisfaction or discontent with the profession. In connecting with other educators who have similar feelings, I believe we must focus energy inward and “put on our own oxygen mask” as we put concerted energy into our individual teacher wellness. Our physical and mental health must be addressed. When we’re healthier, we’re more capable of creating thriving communities for our students.

This year, I’ll be engaging in a year-long quest, with a monthly focus on different aspects of teacher wellness. #TchWellness will showcase my journey — along with experts in the field giving advice and tips — to help reduce the global fatigue many of us feel, and return enjoyment and career fulfillment to the profession I fell in love with years ago.

When my son or daughter, or yours, tells me they want to be a teacher, I want to honestly be able to tell them they’re making a sound, positive choice for themselves and our future. Rather than steer potential candidates away, my goal is to smile and ask how I can encourage this choice.

Join me in #TchWellness by signing up via Remind. This will ensure that you get my monthly newsletter/blog along with an invitation to listen to my podcast series with education and health experts.

Together, let’s take control of our emotions, elevate our voices, and build relationships that fuel our wellness. In doing so, let’s also elevate our profession in the eyes of our youth through positive self-talk and optimism, helping to develop future educators that not only continue our legacy, but fuel learning in my kids, your kids, and all children alike.

Crystal Morey is a K-6 instructional coach in Kent, Washington. Crystal spent the past seven years teaching middle level mathematics. She’s a strong advocate of inquiry based mathematics instruction, as well as increasing student voice in the classroom. Crystal has partnered with a variety of organizations on projects, including Illustrative Mathematics, Washington STEM, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington State. When not teaching, Crystal is a mom to two energetic children. She utilizes her many life experiences to speak about the challenges and opportunities many educators face. Connect with Crystal on Twitter: @TheMathDancer.

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