Being a special education teacher is exhausting and draining. Between behaviors, managing adults, and filling out paperwork, we are overworked and underappreciated. However, being a special education teacher also has some perks! It is very rewarding and fills my heart!
But burnout is real and we need to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves because we cannot pour from an empty cup! I want to go over a few ways that you can practice self-care throughout the school year!
Taking Days Off
I can not stress this tip enough. You need to take personal days throughout the school year to take time for just yourself. What you do on that day off is no one else's business, but you deserve it. I know a lot of teachers out there who feel so guilty every time they need to take a day off. But guess what, the class will survive. Your staff will survive and you will be a better, more rested version of yourself when you return. If you have the means to do so, at least take one mental health day off a quarter!
Do not take work home with you
Our jobs as special education teachers just never end. The work that you are bringing home, will still be there tomorrow. Try and make sure that you use your time wisely at school and make it a habit to stop bringing all the stuff home with you.
Learn to Ask for Help for your self care
Other special education teachers and even your administration are likely as stressed out and exhausted as you are. Lean on them when you are struggling. Maybe you need an extension for grades? Sometimes it helps to have someone help you lesson plan? Maybe you could do shared lessons. It is always a good idea to have support around you so that you can lean on people when you feel like you are drowning!
Learn to Say No
You need to learn to set limits and maintain your boundaries. When administration or another teacher asks you to do more work than you can handle, make sure that you are saying no. Many people don't know how much is on your plate, only you do, so being firm and saying no is not being mean or insubordinate, you are being realistic.
Only Work Your Contracted Hours
I know this one is really hard to do, but make sure that you are not going in early or staying late. You are not getting an award for being the last person in the parking lot. And you certainly aren't getting paid for it. Make it a habit to leave when you are supposed to leave. You will not regret it. This is truly self-care to me. That time before and after school is very valuable to me and I don't take it for granted!
Take your Planning time for self care!
And finally, do not give up your prep or your lunchtime. This time is like gold to me. You want to protect those two times with your life. All of my team knows that these two specific times of the day are for me only. My Planning time is where I get as much as I can do so that I can leave on time and not take work home. And my lunch is my reset time. That is MY time to take a breath, decompress and do something for myself. Like scroll TikTok or actually eat my lunch!
I use my editable teacher planner, to help me stay organized and focused during my lesson planning time every day. This has seriously helped me during my 15 years of teaching experience.
If you are a brand new teacher looking for advice, you can read this blog post all about first-year special education teachers!