As Facing History educators, we know the importance of creating a classroom that is a safe space for students physically, mentally and emotionally. This is of special importance because we engage students in conversations about identity, belonging, difficult histories and contemporary injustices - subject matter that can be uncomfortable and emotional. However, we often forget that we also need to take care of ourselves.
Sitting on the floor
Curled up as small as possible
Trying to disappear from the world.
I imagine cutting deep
Watching the blood run
Would it be red or black?
I don’t care
If it stops the pain.
I do everything,
Until there is nothing left to give.
And still it is not enough.
If I ripped out my heart, offered it
On a silver platter
Would I be worthy then?
This is what an anxiety attack looks like for me. I came into the education field already having chronic depression and anxiety from previous experiences. That meant (and still means) that loving myself is hard. I deal with constant self- doubt; Why am I journaling when I should be lesson planning? Was my lesson effective in getting across what my students need to know? Am I a good enough teacher to give them the skills they need to move forward? A few years ago I came across this quotation that reminded me of the importance of self-love:
It is impossible to teach without the courage to love, without the courage to try a thousand times before giving up. In short, it is impossible to teach without a forged, invented and well-thought-out capacity to love…we must dare, in the full sense of the word, to speak of love without being called ridiculous, mawkish or unscientific (Freire, 1999, p.348).
Paulo Freire’s quotation is largely interpreted to be directed at instructing teachers about the kind of love to give their students, but I read it as the kind of love that we as educators also need to give ourselves. Throughout my research, I came across literature that addresses educators’ mental health for many other regions and countries of the world, but noticed there is a significant lack of literature surrounding educators’ mental health in both academic and policy documents that address specifically a Canadian context. Only in recent years has there been a shift in policy to allow a small opening for student mental health considerations, and the same now needs to happen for educator mental health.
As educators, we give so much of ourselves to our students that often there is nothing left over. To give, to engage, and to be fully present in your respective educational setting is what motivates so many of us to be educators. But this cannot come at the cost of self care; we deserve to love ourselves, get enough sleep, exercising and eating healthily. We also need to start conversations in the workplace around educator mental health: language that allows for the inclusion of experiences, viewing educators as unfinished beings with emotions, and above all, caring for the self while caring for others. Changing the way we talk and think about our own mental health as educators is not easy, but it is necessary if we want to continue to be the kind of educators that can give as much as we do in our professions.
It’s not easy to change the way we think and talk about our own mental health: I have fallen prey to the excuses of “I’m too tired” or “I have too much to do”. For me, when I am absolutely exhausted both emotionally and physically, this is the time when I need my self care the most. I am the most prone to anxiety attacks when my defenses are down, but that is also when it is the hardest to take care of myself. For me, nap time is my friend as it makes all the worries of the world seem to disappear for a while. Or I try to lose myself in a book or magazine-anything to get my mind of fixating on what is upsetting me. I try to give myself one evening a week for just me: to watch my TV shows, read my magazines, take a hot bubble bath with candles. As hard as it is to find time and energy to take care of myself sometimes, it is always, always worth it to feel better in the long run.
Following mental-health awareness week, I encourage you to give yourself some love: Eat dessert first, crank up that song on the radio, have an after-work nap - do whatever it is that makes you happy. Check in with a co-worker, call a family member, talk about more than things being “just fine”. If nothing else, take these words from me: you are an awesome educator with a lot to contribute and are making a difference in the lives of those you interact with. I share these words to put my voice out there as an educator with mental health struggles, so that teachers and others in the education field can know that there is someone else like them. I have given some links below to mental health resources if you are in a place where you are struggling. Don’t be ashamed to use them. Don’t be afraid to reach out. You are not alone.
For now, here are two links to help if you’re struggling:
Do you know of any links or specific Canadian resources regarding educator mental health? Please feel free to comment below so that we can add to our list of supports.
What do you as an educator do to take care of yourself?