Self-Care & the Heart of Teaching

“We need to open a new frontier in our exploration of good teaching: the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. To chart that landscape fully, three important paths must be taken–intellectual, emotional, and spiritual–and none can be ignored.” (Palmer, pg. 1)

This quote stood out to me because I noticed a connection between how Palmer defines a good teacher and how many social workers define a self-care plan. Self-care plans typically include a focus on the mind, body, spirit, and emotional parts of us. Professionals in “helping” fields like: health care, law enforcement, advocacy, teaching, etc.; are taught self-care practices because they are exposed to trauma, sometimes primary and sometimes secondary. I used to work with domestic violence and sexual assault advocates to remind them about the importance of self-care and to discuss their own strengths and coping skills. During workshops on the topic, advocates would be asked to think about the different parts of their lives that uplifted them, nurtured them, or simply made them feel happy and healthy. What does that look like in education?

I found it really interesting that Palmer identified good teaching as someone who, in essence, practices self-care. Someone who knows themselves well. Palmer stresses that we must find balance both inside and outside of the classroom and that the best teachers remain present, engaged and curious.

The challenges we face as teachers are sometimes amplified by the many challenges our students face everyday before, during and after school. For me, my biggest fear is that I will care too much. This essay helped remind me that I will care too much and that it will be okay. My teaching does not have to be stagnant, but it does have to inspire my students and make them feel confident. Creating an engaging classroom requires me to be excited about teaching and interested in my student’s learning process. To do all that, I have to take care of myself.

By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am. (Palmer, pg. 4)

(More info on self-care: Webinar slides from the Native Wellness Institute on Self-Care and self-care tools and information visit the University at Buffalo School of Social Work.)

One thought on “Self-Care & the Heart of Teaching”

  1. I think you nailed it in calling it self-care, and I think it’s crucial in staying sane as a teacher–a lot of people throw themselves too far into a classroom to the detriment of their own mental/spiritual health and burn out; or they hold too much of themselves close to the vest and aren’t able to connect with students, which only hurts their teaching. We need to find a balance, and remember just like you said: “I will care too much and that it will be okay.”

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