Saturday, September 6, 2008

The First Days of School

Have you ever noticed how the children never seem to run out of energy?
I know that I sure seem to run out much faster than my students some days.

Thus far every year of my teaching career, after the first day of school I go home and I am ready for bed by about 6:30. During a conversation I had with a school principal about year round school, the principal spoke about how teachers need a break. We have to be "on" all the time. At a recent workshop, the presenter spoke about how each day teachers need to win the academy award for excitement and enthusiasm about how we have the best job in the entire world. No wonder we get worn out!

This year I actually had energy left at the end of the first day of kindergarten and was able to accomplish tasks in the evening and engage in conversation. (In years past I could neither speak coherently or sit upright after the first day!)

I attribute this breakthrough to some lifestyle changes that I've been practicing. I share these fatigue fighters with you now in hope that they help anyone else who has struggled to keep going.

1.Eat a good breakfast. I mean one that will hold you until lunch. I have discovered that for me this means oatmeal. I have tried just about everything else and oatmeal is the only breakfast that keeps me from getting hungry before lunch. (And unfortunately being hungry makes me crabby and the last thing I or the children need is crabbiness during the getting ready for lunch process.) Here is my super fabulous oatmeal recipe. The night before I prepare a serving of fruit (my favorites are blueberries, cherries and apples, they can be fresh or frozen), 12 almonds cut in half, a scoop of flax seed and 2-3 spoonfuls of vanilla yogurt in a bowl . I mix it up and put it in the fridge. I also put my desired amount of oatmeal in a pan on the stove. In the morning I add milk to the oatmeal and cook it. I mix the hot oatmeal with my cold yogurt mixture and breakfast is ready! (Not to mention it covers all 4 food groups!)

2. Stay away from sugar during the school day. This was hard for me because we always have something delectable available in the staff lounge and someone always has a candy stash. But sugar causes energy spikes and crashes. When there is something irresistible available I take it and put it away until after school. I try to keep a piece of fruit around for snack "emergencies".

3. Eat a balanced lunch. (Okay I know these first three are about food but what we put in our bodies is what we get out of our bodies so food is a huge part of energy.) I had to quit eating school lunch. As hard as I know our cook tries to keep lunch healthful, her choices are limited to highly processed, mass produced food. As an alternative, I started bringing my own lunch and through that process met up with other teachers as health conscious as I. So 5 of us started a lunch cooperative this year. Here's how it works. Each of us makes lunch for all 5 one day a week. The only stipulation is that what we make has to be healthful. So 1 day a week I make a meal for 5, 4 days a week someone else makes me a great lunch. We also each have a reusable bowl labeled with our name that we need to wash and pass on to the next cook by the end of the day. This way food is portioned out, no one is stuck with washing dishes and we don't have to worry about taking too much or a "non member" thinking the lunch is up for grabs. It has only been a week but all of us really love it. It also really helps if I focus on eating while I'm eating instead of eating while I'm working.

4.Rest. We are all extremely busy. I run around during my prep time trying to get as much done in a short amount of time as possible. But my brain is usually so full of ideas that I'm not very efficient. I've made a practice of sitting for 1 minute with my eyes closed just resting. Then I can make a "to do" list and have better focus and accomplish more.

5. Work in a little movement. I know studies say that a little moderate exercise relieves fatigue more than a nap. But when I'm tired, all I want is a nap! But when my whole class and I are having an energy slump nothing perks us up like dancing around to a silly song or taking a little walk around the playground or school. I have also discovered the beauty of recess duty as a chance for some extra exercise in the midst of the day. I play with the kids. (This of course means keeping the proper gear at school, athletic shoes, snow pants and boots {I live in Minnesota} deodorant and a hair brush) This play also helps me connect with the kids in a less structured manner.

6. Drink water all day. Anyone who has done the brain gym program can attest to how much we all need water to function well. I like to put peppermint essential oil in my water for an extra boost. (Peppermint promotes alertness and gives me fresh breath!) My school has a policy that the teacher can't be eating or drinking if the students aren't. I also think we as teachers should model what we want our students to do. So a water bottle is part of my supply list. Each child has one. I teach them how to keep it full and they can get a drink whenever they need one without waiting in a long line at the drinking fountain for a short drink. And it eliminates a bunch of trips down the hall to the drinking fountain. However, they do need to use the bathroom more.

7. Be prepared. It is very taxing and stressful to walk into school without a plan or materials ready. Time is precious and usually when I have to get something done before school or during prep time something happens to prevent me. I really try to have my lesson plans done and all materials prepared by Friday the week before. When I do this I can really enjoy my weekend.

8. Take time for you! I think we all know someone who has teacher's burnout. I experienced this myself a few years ago. I spent so much time making things for my classroom or getting new ideas ready that I ran out of energy and desire for it. Now I know the value in having hobbies that have nothing to do with teaching. We are "on" all the time. Teaching is extremely demanding. We need frequent breaks and time away to be truly rested and ready for our students.