It’s a scene that keeps playing out in my mind.
It screeches forward into prominence as I’m reading a teaching book.
It sits in the background waving as teachers excitedly discuss their first weeks back at school online.
It boldly struts into consciousness as I remember practices I was heavily invested in.
Over and over this familiar scene plays out in my mind. The words within which are central.
Over and over, thoughts and questions run rampant.
We’re on board a plane, the airline steward is explaining how to use Emergency Oxygen Masks.
If you are travelling with children, or are seated next to someone who needs assistance, place the mask on yourself first, then offer assistance.
That notion – putting yourself first – so that you’re then capable of extending that care to others – is the central point within this post.
More specifically, teachers putting themselves before their students.
I remember when I first heard the Oxygen Mask directive.
The very idea of putting myself first before a child, absolutely baffled me. [Of course, later on, I could see the reasoning]
As a teacher, I was hard-wired with the notion – Put your students first.
- Students must be front and centre – your first point of concern;
- What you DO – along with what you DON’T DO – can have far-reaching implications for their lives.
- If you slip up….then…
- It’s not about you – it’s about your students.
Lately, alarms have been ringing and question marks have been flashing, within my mind.
And it all relates to this idea of putting your students first.
I recognise that there are times – when students’ needs should come first
I am concerned about the costs – for teachers – of always putting the students first.
Lately, I’ve found myself tightening up, tensing,
as I wrestle with the layer upon layer of expectations that are laid out for us as teachers:
- in a profession that struggles to retain its stressed and pressured workers;
- in a profession where rates of burnout are significant.
They’re expectations that seem to pass as common sense – as that’s just what you do expectations:
- The Musts or Have to-s or else ….directives;
- The Your role is SO SO significant – so important – in a child’s life – that you can’t afford to …. statements;
- The 100% and nothing less demands;
- The calls to be positive (in mood) even when you’re not – every single day;
- The relentless calls for objectivity or neutrality (as though being neutral is not taking a position);
- The don’t let them down pleas -OR don’t stuff up because if you do [insert thoroughly awful consequence here].
It almost feels like – You wouldn’t dare question these expectations-directives-pleas – or what would you be labelled as? (selfish?)
I understand that, for the most part, many of these expectations come from good intentions.
And I know that I’ve been complicit at times.
I wonder about the costs for us – as teachers.
I don’t think it has to be an either-or situation.
I know that I can be attentive to students’ needs whilst also taking care of me.
I know that dialling it up well towards 100% on the student scale – to keep giving, giving, giving – hasn’t necessarily made me a better teacher.
- In fact, the costs to me physically, emotionally and spiritually have impacted on my capacity to attend to my students – and to truly be me.
I know that when I’ve been taking better care of No.1 (it almost feels scandalous to consider myself No.1 as a teacher) – giving more attention to me and those I’m closest to:
- I’m more present within the classroom
- I’m far more switched on to my students;
- My disposition is better;
- My energy and weird and whacky quotient is up, and;
- Students comment favourably on the change within me as well as the engaging class atmosphere.
So daring and controversial as it may seem, I’m going to encourage you to take that Oxygen Mask and to put it on you first, even when it’s not an emergency.
Dare to Put Yourself First, more often.
Put Yourself First – Questions & Resources
1. Tell us about a time when you’ve put yourself first? Did it feel weird? What happened?
2. Teacher well-being is a particular interest of mine. I’ve written a number of self-help posts all about Empowering You. They’re filled with tips and strategies.
3. Putting myself first – more often – has been a key component in my Thrive regime. If you’re looking for some tips to help you Thrive rather than survive – check out my Thrive 101 series.