Be Your Own Hero – New Jersey Education Association

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By Jes Quijano

Across the state, schools have experienced unprecedented disruption from COVID-19. Educators had to adopt new routines and procedures while adapting to new positions and technologies. Essentially, every educator has become a grade one educator; start from nothing. In all of this, the students came first.

Why do we have to be our own heroes?

As educators, many of us have seen Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk, “Every Child Needs a Champion.” It is his words that inspire and remind educators why we come to school every day. Listening to his words after the pandemic gave me a new perspective on the realities of working in a school. It is these realities that cause educators to become exhausted and cynical, while feeling diminished accomplishment.

Rita Pierson begins her Ted Talk by sharing that she’s spent her whole life in school: going to school, traveling to and from school, or talking about what’s going on at school. Think about the time you spend “on the clock” – in a classroom, in the office, on a school bus, or wherever you might be as an employee of the school district. Now think about the time you spend commuting to and from work, the time you spend before and after school getting ready for the next day, grading homework, and communicating with parents and colleagues. In the pandemic, the hours of preparation have increased while the balance has decreased.

Rita Pierson also insists on the importance of the human connection, which has also diminished. We taught in isolation. We watched nearly blank screens showing only our students’ initials; get answers and answers from a chat box. For many of us, school is still isolated due to social distancing requirements, restrictions on student interactions, and other health and safety protocols. Even relationships between educators are limited. The staff rooms used to be filled with staff having lunch together, now they are outdated.

While we always put students at the forefront of what we do, it’s important that amidst all the exhaustion and cynicism, we remember to be our own heroes too.

How to be your own hero?

As we move away from certain pandemic restrictions, it is important that we incorporate ways to be our own hero. Readjusting to a routine is the perfect time to create a routine that promotes our well-being. Here are a few ways.

Set boundaries and stick to them

Think about your needs, whether it’s spending time with family, friends, or taking time for yourself. Give yourself a designated space and time to work. Even though communication has been essential to the success of virtual learning, there comes a time when your computer is put to rest. Decide on two nights that your job doesn’t come home. Let your students’ families know a time to contact you and when they may have to wait until the next day for a response. These limits will give you some peace of mind.

To move

A growing collection of studies show the positive effects of exercise in reducing anxiety, stress and depression. Through physiological and biochemical mechanisms, including the release of endorphins, moving your body has been shown to contribute to better health outcomes and improved mood.

Create joy and satisfaction

It’s easier said than done, but it’s crucial for combating the depression and anxiety that come with burnout. Education can be emotionally, physically and mentally taxing. It’s important that we foster good feelings that have been shown to enhance our abilities to manage stress, solve problems, and keep an open mind. Mental Health America offers these tips for creating joy and relaxation:

  • Do something you loved when you were a kid: whether it’s running through sprinklers, hanging on to monkey bars, or even making a mess with paint, use memories of joy to create a new joy.
  • Do something you’ve always wanted to do: Take the time to complete the items on your to-do list. Whether it’s making a soufflé, taking a fitness class or learning to knit.
  • Watch or listen to comedy: Have fun watching comedy on a video, podcast, or website. Better yet, have a good old-fashioned fun and read the comics section of a newspaper.
  • Take a break from nature: Walking in nature or simply looking at nature has been shown to calm the nerves and relieve mental fatigue.

Jes Quijano is a teacher in the North Brunwick School District and a member of the NJEA Early Career Educators Network.

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