Wellness Takes Time
As I was pondering what direction to take this column, I was reading the other articles that had been written for this issue and noted that many of them are focused on student wellness. Now this should not be surprising in a publication of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, but my first thought was, what about us? For a classroom to thrive it needs all of its population to be healthy—physically, mentally and spiritually. So while I acknowledge that student wellness is a large focus of the Association, this column is all about us teachers!
What is the primary element in teacher wellness? In my mind it is time, as this element plays a crucial role in both physical and mental health.
On the physical side, wellness does not happen immediately, but rather physical health is a continuous work in progress. As we age it seems to take longer and longer to achieve particular results whether that be weight loss (tell me about it) or the elimination of habits that are detrimental to one’s overall well-being. (A word of advice to the younger members of our profession—good physical health is easier to maintain than it is to regain later in life. That being said, if regaining health is the only option, then it should be pursued.) No one will argue that our job is much easier when we have the energy and the stamina to get the most out of each and every day.
Time is also a critical component of mental health. In fact, I believe that a lack of available time is the greatest factor negatively influencing the mental health of teachers. We often talk about relationships as being fundamental to teaching—we need to build relationships with our students in order to be effective in the classroom—but the classroom is not the only place where teachers need to form relationships in order to be at their best. Family and friends are also important aspects of a healthy work-life balance. When work takes away the time needed to tend to these essential connections, mental health erodes—all work and no play make Jane or John an unhealthy person.
This is one of the reasons that time was such an important part of our last central table agreement. More personal time for teachers means healthier teachers, which means more effective instruction for Alberta students.
It’s also important that teaching colleagues have time to relate to each other as people rather than simply viewing each other as fellow adult humans in the room down the hall. My experiences have shown me that there is far less strife and stress in a staff room when the people there have opportunities to interact with each other in more relaxed settings, whether that’s getting together on Fridays after school or maybe using some school-based in-service time for team-building activities. When a staff gets along well the students can feel it and also benefit.
It all takes time. Collectively and individually we need to work toward carving out more time so we all can be well. On that note, now that this article is finished, I think I’ll head home and spend some time with my family. It’s a start.