Teacher Jacqueline Irvine shares how she has learnt to take care of herself as a teacher, and shares her 6 tips for graduate teachers to take care of themselves too.

Taking care of yourself as a graduate teacher

Your graduate year of teaching is exciting, fun, and wildly challenging. It’s creating amazing connections with your students, roaring with laughter one day and feeling you’ve failed them the next. It’s a to-do-list, racing from the printer to an over-heated laminator, arriving early and leaving late. It’s running to duty with an apple, remembering everybody’s birthday, but forgetting to drink water. It’s crashing on the couch at 4:00pm, crying to loved ones and wondering how other teachers make it look so easy. It’s exhilaration, triumphs, and sleep deprivation. It’s figuring out ‘work-life balance’ and remembering why you started so you can keep coming back.

If you see yourself in anything I have just said, please know you are absolutely not alone. Your feelings and experiences are valid and normal. My graduate year was all of this craziness and more. Here are 6 things I have learnt and wish I had known.

  1. You’re not expected to be an expert. You’re a beginner and you are going to fumble! No one expects you to know everything and while university prepared you, there is so much you learn on the job. Come with curiosity and embrace the unknown as opportunities to learn.

  2. Ask for help. I felt a constant need to prove myself. I did not take a day off. I silently wondered if I could do this job and I did not let anyone see just how much I was struggling. I’ll tell you what, pretending to have it together all the time is exhausting! Please put down your pride and welcome support. Be it a teacher you trust, a loved one or a psychologist; let them in. You don’t need to do this year alone.

  3. Rest is your best friend. Your first year will likely introduce you to the term ‘teacher-tired’. How exciting! My experience has taught me it’s important to do your best to honour your needs and listen to your mind and body when they call for recharging. Be it sleep, naps or having slow weekends. Gift yourself that time. Let your loved ones know where you’re at; they will understand.

  4. Create boundaries. So you’re managing your class, the choir, volunteering for camp and staying at school until 7:00pm? This could be joyful for a while, but it could also mean you don’t know how to say no. Slow down and be selective with where your energy goes. Even experienced teachers can struggle with this, but I think it is vital for longevity in this profession. Hate to break it to you, but you aren’t a robot!

  5. Watch out for that comparison trap! It’s wonderful to be inspired by teachers down the hall and online. However, if you start to feel inadequate, or as if you’re not enough beside them, pause. Notice and challenge these thought processes. Remind yourself that it is not a competition. We are a collective; all bringing knowledge to the same job. Know you have magic inside you that this profession needs. Get excited about what you can bring into the classroom and into the lives of your students. Being told this was a game changer for me, I hope it is for you too.

  6. Keep your sparkle. Being a teacher is what you do, not who you are. You have passions, talents, goals and joys that have nothing to do with your job. Leave space for these. They are your life raft when teaching is hard. You, your wellbeing, and your world outside of school is important. So prioritise and nourish those parts of you. It can make you a happier human, and a happier teacher.

How do you care for your own health and wellbeing? Do you have any tips that you’d like to share with your colleagues in education? We’d love to hear about them. Here’s a handy guide on how to get started.