Monday, October 6, 2008

An Apple a Day Keeps the Teacher in School

Miss Rainey never missed a day of school. This was lucky for her students since the substitutes at Proctor Elementary were notorious for their strict and unpredictable ways. But it was also lucky for them because her presence every day ensured an incredible learning experience that could not be replicated by anyone else.

Miss Rainey was my fifth grade teacher 21 years ago and when I think back on her amazing attendance record I realize that dedication to her job was only part of what kept her healthy and present every day. She was incredibly physically active, coaching both track and volley ball. She ate well and taught us to do the same. She kept her classroom lively and filled with creative projects - but impeccably clean at the same time. She never sat at her desk, instead she was constantly in motion throughout the classroom. Miss Rainey is still teaching today - by my count she's been at it for at least 40 years - and she still coaches both teams.

Fifth grade was a long time ago so I can't remember if her attendance record rubbed off on her students but I do know that I looked forward to her class every single day.

As teachers we are trained to think constantly about the well being of our students. We manage their academic progress but increasingly these days we take the time to nurture their social, emotional, and sometimes even physical development as well. And as exhausting as this whole-child approach to teaching may be, it makes sense when you consider that all these elements that make up a life are interconnected and dependent on one another to thrive.

So the way we take care of ourselves naturally sets an example for how our students might take care of themselves. For many of the young people in your class YOU may be the adult they most look up to. If you're running yourself ragged, calling a bag of chips and cup of coffee lunch, and teaching from a chair in front of the room because you're too exhausted to move about - it may be time to take a look in the mirror and change a few habits.

Just as in any relationship, you cannot be your best for another person if you're not being the best for yourself. And this is a tall order when you're feeling overwhelmed by all you have to do just to keep afloat of the papers to grade, the lessons to plan, the workshops to attend, the grade books to complete, and oh, the dreaded report cards that are always just around the corner. But believe you me - as overwhelming as all that seems right now, it's going to be impossible if you're too sick to get out of bed.

Flu season is just around the corner and the change in weather invites a whole host of viruses to a end-of-year party with your immune system. An endless parade of sick kids is about to begin its march through your classroom door. But you can keep yourself out of the fray with 3 healthy meals a day, a decent amount of sleep each night, and at least a half hour of exercise 3 times a week.

At first you'll feel like you're sacrificing so many important things to take the time to care for yourself. But once you establish a healthy routine you'll realize that the few hours you spend now will have exponential benefits if they earn you the "perfect attendance" award in June - not from your principal, but from your students who have experienced the gift of your presence every single day.

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