Why Teachers Need to care about self-care – Part 1

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Why Teachers Need to Care about Self-Care

Have you ever thought about self-care? Do you practice self-care now?  Unfortunately, self-care was never part of my vocabulary, so when I left teaching in December 2015 due to professional burn-out, I never thought about my own needs.  When I returned to teaching in November 2017, I knew that I needed to practice self-care.  This post discusses what I have learned about teacher self-care and the information shared in a December 7, 2018 TESL Ontario webinar. I also include some valuable insights and comments from more than 80 participants who took part.

Teaching is a profession that requires giving of one’s self to make a difference for others. The chronic use of empathy and depletion of emotional resources are strongly associated with emotional exhaustion and/or professional burnout (Maslach, Schaufeli & Leiter, 2001). Large classes, continuous enrollment, precarious work, multiple workloads and administrative responsibilities contributes to stress. Teachers have the highest levels of job stress and burnout across many countries (Stoeber & Renner, 2008)

Many factors contribute to teachers’ stress including increased legislative regulations, changing educational standards, few professional development opportunities, and a lack of planning time, support and resources (Acton & Glasgow, 2015, Spilt, Koomen & Thijs, 2011).  Without self-care, teachers are at risk of emotional exhaustion and/or professional burn-out.

Self care: not a luxury

I strongly believe that self-care is not an indulgence but the key to sustaining the joys and rewards of our teaching practice. Self-care is defined as skills and strategies used to maintain personal, familial, emotional, and spiritual needs while attending to the needs and demands of others (Newell & MacNeil, 2016).

What is self care?

Webinar participants contributed the following ideas about self-care:

  • being able to turn off and rest
  • time for yourself, finding outlets
  • doing something you enjoy
  • reflecting, time with nature
  • taking care of my needs first, me time
  • peace and maintaining balance
  • stress reduction and being aware of my personal limitations

Warning signs of burn-out

It is important for educators to be aware of the warning signs of burn-out such as fatigue, mood swings, depression and loss of empathy.  In my own case, I was aware of some of the warnings signs before I left teaching in 2015; however, I did not associate them with the process of burning out.  There were other personal issues that I was facing at the time so I associated my exhaustion to those events.  However, as Skovholt & Trotter-Mathison (2011) suggest, self-care is even more important during “personal crisis or excessive stress” (p. 129).  (Christine Maslach has conducted extensive research in the area of burn-out and has designed a survey for educators which is available at https://www.mindgarden.com/331-maslach-burnout-toolkit-for-educators).

In next week’s blog I will continue the discussion on self-care offering ideas to incorporate self-care into your life.


Acton, R., & Glasgow, P. (2015). Teacher wellbeing in neoliberal contexts: A review of the literature. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 40(8)

Cherkowski, S., & Walker, K. (2018). Teacher Wellbeing. Noticing, Nurturing, Sustaining and Flourishing in Schools. Word & Deed Publishing, ON

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422. http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397

Newell, J., & MacNeil, G. (2010). Professional Burnout, Vicarious Trauma, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Compassion Fatigue: A Review of Theoretical Terms, Risk Factors, and Preventive Methods for Clinicians and Researchers. Best Practices in Mental Health, Vol. 6 (2) Lyccum Books

Skovholt, T. M., & Trotter-Mathison, M. (2011). The resilient practitioner: Burnout prevention and self-care strategies for counselors, therapists, teachers, and health professionals, second edition. (2nd Edition ed.) New York, NY: Taylor and Francis. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203893326

Stoeber, J., & Rennert, D. (2008). Perfectionism in school teachers: Relations with stress appraisals, coping styles, and burnout. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 21, 37-53.

Spilt, J.L., Koomen, H.M. & Thijs, J.T. (2011). Teacher well-being: The importance of teacher-student relationships. Educational Psychology Review, 23(4)

Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL has 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Curriculum Writer in Canada, including 7 years in Hong Kong. Patrice has taught students from age 8 to 80 years in ESP, EAP, LINC, ELT, and OSLT.


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