5 Things Teachers Can Do to Recharge over the Summer
By NAfME Member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl with Dr. Jaime Bonato
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes . . . including you.”― Anne Lamott
There is no tired like “teacher tired,” and these past few years have put that to the test. More than half of teachers are feeling stressed, fatigued, and nearing burnout (Mission Square Research Institute, 2021). Teachers make more than 1,500 decisions a day while teaching (Klein, EdWeek, 2021). These decisions include presenting curricular content, managing behaviors, and communicating with students, families, and colleagues. All these choices lead to “decision fatigue.” Yes, it is a real thing! Decision fatigue happens when your brain feels overloaded with having to make decisions, and in turn, can lead to stress and exhaustion (Berg, AMA, 2021). In addition to mental stress, teachers face physical and emotional stressors that over time can create chronic stress. Chronic stress leads to physiological changes, such as increased cortisol, also known as the stress hormone (Penn State, 2016). To try to combat these stressors and the tolls they take on us physically, mentally, and emotionally, we can work to destress and recharge over the summer break. Although personal and professional responsibilities may not end when schools dismiss for the summer, the break may allow for more flexibility or free time.
The following are a few suggestions for what teachers can do during summer break to unplug and recharge:
#1 Do nothing.
Do a complete 180-degree turn from our usual minute-by-minute planned day. Free yourself from school bells, announcements, and emails and do. . .nothing. The Italians call this “La Dolce Far Niente,” which means “the sweetness of doing nothing (Long, Psychology Today, 2014). Though doing nothing may seem easy, it can be difficult for those of us used to being on the go and always answering to the bell tone, raised hand, or email inbox. Doing nothing may actually require planning to not plan. Savor the irony in this concept! Consider going for a walk or drive and see where you go. Pick up a paper and pen and see what you compose. Sing or play your instrument. Lounge by a pool. Call a friend or family member and catch up on time gone by. The only rule for doing nothing is to enter with no expectations and see where it takes you.
#2 Binge a TV show or read a book.
This may not be research-based, but it might be the prescription needed to relax and focus on something else that we may not otherwise have time or energy to watch or read during the school year. Find a topic or genre that grabs your attention from the first episode or chapter. Commit to a season or the entire book and power through. Ask family, friends, or colleagues for recommendations.
#3 Focus on physical health.
During the school year, teachers are non-stop during the teaching hours and often beyond. Many teachers report having limited time to attend to personal needs (Wong, The Atlantic, 2015). Even using the bathroom, eating a healthy snack, or meditating can be limited to only a few minutes between classes or meetings! The summer break is often the perfect time to refocus on ourselves and our physical health. Drink all the water you want, and take time during the day for yoga, a walk, a cardio session, or weight training. Rest when you need it, including a nap or a leisurely lounge. Use this time to give yourself extra care and attention to regenerate.
#4 Learn something new.
Summer break is a great time to learn something new. Consider learning something new that is not work-related. Learn another language or a musical instrument. Learn to salsa dance, discover how to juggle, create a garden, or compose a song. Trying something new will give your mind a break from the usual stress, but also help you remember what it is like to be a learner. You may consider professionally developing yourself, too, by researching, reading within your content area, listening to a podcast, enrolling in a course, attending a webinar, or talking shop with colleagues or mentors.
Carve out time to reflect on the past school year and plan for the future both personally and professionally. What will the fall or the entire upcoming academic year look like? Do you want to earn an additional certification or degree? How do you want your career to evolve? What steps will you take to make key changes to achieve these goals? How will you ensure that your dreams become reality?
Teaching is tough and can take a toll on educators’ physical, mental, and emotional health. Unplug from school and recharge over the summer! Encourage your colleagues to do the same.
About the author:
Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl has served as a proud educator since 2001. She has successfully led secondary music programs in a rural school in Pennsylvania and two Title I schools in Maryland, one of which was assigned to corrective action for two years. In both states, Dr. Reichl has had the opportunity to open two new school buildings, develop their curricula, and collaborate with various communities. In Pennsylvania she received the Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Daniel Boone Area School District and in Maryland she has been a finalist for the Howard County Public School System’s Teacher of the Year Award and the Howard County Parents for School Music Educator of the Year Award. Dr. Reichl’s research is rooted in the student voice and the learner’s perception of effective strategies of Diversity/Equity/Inclusion/Access.
Dr. Reichl’s unique experiences have permitted her to expand her multifaceted career into a portfolio as a clinician, conductor, instructor, writer, and speaker. She is the author of more than 75 educational articles and has designed these mentoring pieces into a graduate course that she instructs at The University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and VanderCook College of Music (Chicago). She has conducted honor bands or presented educational sessions in 16 states including at international conferences and performances, prepared countless K-12 professional development sessions nationwide, spoken in dozens of collegiate classrooms, and has been interviewed for 13 education podcasts.
Dr. Jaime Bonato has 20 years of classroom teaching experience, is a teacher leader, and serves as a new teacher mentor and professor to aspiring teachers. She has a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, and her research has focused on teacher recruitment and retention.
She is an active member of many educational organizations, and she has served on multiple advisory boards and panels. Dr. Bonato has presented her research findings at both national and international teaching conferences. She serves on the California Educational Research Association as a board member and the California Mathematics Council as a new teacher coordinator. Dr. Bonato was honored as a California Distinguished Teacher, and is an active member of the State Network of Educators.
Dr. Bonato’s article, “The seven practical ways: How education leaders can help prevent new teacher attrition” was published in the Association of California School Administrators Leadership Magazine, and her teaching was highlighted in the video on the California Department of Education’s website. Her complete CV is available at www.teacheredspace.com.
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June 7, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)