I learned something about myself this past week, back at school full-time and preparing for the year (no students yet). After a wonderful summer with plenty of relaxation, sleeping late, time outdoors, and cooking, I was back in a fixed work schedule. I had to wake up early, but I did not go to sleep earlier.
By the end of the week, I was in an entirely different place personally than I had been five days before. I enjoyed the work quite a lot and pushed through the days on little sleep but when I went home, I felt irritable. I noticed myself getting upset over uncontrollable or unimportant things like the traffic or which fork my partner put next to my plate at the dinner table. I knew that as my mind rushed to focus on meaningless negative points, I was missing more important or interesting things. What happened to the glorious summer energy I’d been relishing?
The change was dramatic and yet not wholly unfamiliar. Then it dawned on me. This is me on six hours of sleep every night. I have met this version of myself on many a school day as the year presses on and I go through stretches of longer and longer hours. This is not the person I want to be, nor is it the person my loved ones want to be around—nor is it the person my students should be learning from.
Never was this lesson so swiftly and clearly handed to me. The takeaway, of course, is that it is essential to get enough sleep to be at your best. Going a step further though, I think it has special ramifications for teaching and they’re not just about sleep. The person you are matters in the classroom. In teaching, I’m constantly negotiating relationships with 100 adolescents. And as their teacher, every little thing I do sends a message to them that influences their development.
I’m human and allowed to err—actually a valuable part of being a role model for kids is making mistakes, admitting it, and modeling how to recover and learn from them. But I do not want my students to be learning from a version of me that is far from my best, which is what happens when I teach without taking care of myself. My decision-making ability and discernment is not as good when I’m running on low fuel, and especially since I run a responsive classroom, my pedagogy is inevitable weaker when I am weaker.
The solution sounds easy—go to sleep earlier. Not such a problem now before the year really starts but it sure get difficult as the work piles on. Other things have to change to allow me to consistently go to sleep earlier. I will have to work more efficiently during some times and rearrange my priorities at other times. I’m still working on how to make this happen (more coming soon organizing my time) but this year, one of my professional goals will be to take better care of myself personally. I can call this a professional goal because part of being a teacher is being a person in relation to my students. I’m at a place in my teaching where I have some pretty sound methods, structures, and curriculum. What I want to develop more fully is who I am, how I feel, and what I project as I implement my plans on a day to day basis.
[Image credit: clipartof.com]