Why Teachers Need Self-Care

Dorothy VanderJagt knows about self-care. She understands the value of mindfulness, reflection, perspective, and emotional therapy, far more than most educators. After a traumatic event, she turned to journaling, which helped her manage suffering and grief. 

In today's world, teachers need self-care and emotional well-being, perhaps more than any time in their lives. Dorothy shares her story and explains the value of journaling in this

Introduction to Permission to Pause: A Journal for Teachers.

After a poignant event in my life, journaling helped me reflect on the past, savor the present, and prepare for the future. It was ten years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had been attending a conference in Orlando, Florida, and for those of us who live in the Midwest, Florida in winter is a real treat. As a bonus, the trip meant I would miss the school board meeting, and every few years, it’s nice to get a pass on attending a meeting. Unfortunately, bad weather at home meant the meeting was postponed to Monday evening after my first day back at work post trip.

Since my husband had a meeting that night, too, my mother-in-law agreed to watch our son. I dropped him off, and he spent a few hours there eating popcorn, watching television, and playing games.

When I picked him up, I was tired from travel, work, and the late meeting, and I just wanted to get my four-year-old home and in bed. I scooted out the door with him quickly, but I vividly remember walking up from the basement where he and his grandma had been playing. I remember looking at the fire in the fireplace, talking to both of them as we walked up the stairs, and standing by the door.

The next morning, my husband called me at work and said his mom was in the hospital. She had fallen and hit her head while mailing her Christmas cards. After two days in the hospital, she passed away.

Journaling provides perspective

It turns out that my son and I were the last people to see her and spend time with her. I was extremely hard on myself for being in such a rush that evening. Through  journaling, I was able to look back and put it in perspective, to feel grateful that the plans changed to allow my son and me to see her when we did, and to remind myself to savor the moments and focus on the present, moving forward.

Time is precious, and journaling is a valuable investment in you. As an educator, you pour your heart and soul into your work. It takes time and energy to build effective lessons, relationships, and learning environments.

The stress must come as a shock to many first-year teachers since almost ten percent of them leave the profession before the end of their first full year of teaching. Turns out, no one bestows merit badges on teachers who work nonstop.

During the coronavirus pandemic, parents around the world gained a new appreciation for the challenges of teaching and the importance of teachers’ impact on students. Yet, the long hours and high expectations of the profession likely will continue.

During challenges and personal and professional demands on your time, what you need most is to pause, de-escalate, and center on what is truly important and what deserves your time and attention.

Journaling provides the perfect channel for introspection.

Writing, even for only a few minutes a day, helps you be more present for the rest of the day. It cultivates a sense of awareness, calmness, and purpose. It boosts creativity. It can help you cope with stress and anxiety. It can improve sleep, memory, organization, and communication skills.

Journaling offers a private zone for looking back, being present, and looking forward. Writing about challenges can help you process them; writing about achievements can help boost your self-esteem.

You may start to appreciate things you didn’t notice before, and these discoveries can help you grow into the kind of teacher and person you want to be.

How to Use This Journal

This Permission to Pause Volume 1 includes 80 journal entries that can help you develop greater self-care, gratitude, and mindfulness. Each day’s journal includes these sections:

  • Self-care: Choose which areas to focus on to take care of you—from drinking more water to positive self-talk to spending time with family and friends.
  • Gratitude: Write what and who you are thankful for, and why.
  • Make a difference: Describe how you’ve made a difference to someone, and how you can continue to make a difference to your students and those around you.
  • Take action: Turn your words into actions. What action will you take to become a more mindful educator? (See Take Action ideas in the Appendix.)

  • Inspiring quote: Read a unique quote for each journal entry. The quotes coordinate with the prompts.
  • Journal space to write your thoughts, ideas, goals, and inspirations, and a unique prompt for each day.

For the greatest benefit and impact of journaling, make it a habit. Create a consistent time, frequency, and space where you give yourself ten or fifteen minutes of quiet. You may want to write every day, every other day, or three days a week.

You may want to write in the morning, during lunch, or just before bed. When this book is filled-up, dog-eared, and coffee-stained, look for Permission to Pause Volume 2 and continue your positive journaling practice.

Journaling has allowed me to create clarity and increase my self-awareness.

I prefer to journal in the morning, as it helps me center and set a positive tone for the day. I create a quiet space, play meditation music, and light a candle. I work my way through the sections of the journal, checking in with my self-care, noting my gratitude, thinking about how I want to impact others, choosing how I will act on my intentions, and writing freely as I wish.

Afterward, I feel more optimistic and tend to focus on the positive. I gain clarity for my day and make an effort to stay focused on my priorities. I enjoy having this personal space where I can guide my favorite pen to record my learnings and reflections.

I wish for you the self-permission to pause, the peace of mind that comes from writing in this journal, and a purposeful life moving forward.


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