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Teachers have a way of leaving lasting impressions that help us keep growing long after we leave their classrooms — but the profession can be as demanding as it is rewarding. The responsibilities of an educator span far beyond the hallways at school, and when it comes to integrating work and life, the task isn’t always easy.

We asked teachers for their best tips on how they’ve been able to reduce their stress levels, avoid burnout, and make being an educator sustainable. Here are some of the strategies that have helped them thrive. 

Create a “parking lot” for your to-do list

“Something that I started last year was having one ‘parking lot’ for my to-do list by using sticky notes. My students could write on sticky notes in a certain color, I add things in a different color. It helps me visualize what I need to accomplish, and rearrange what can be moved down on the list. It also reminds me that it’s OK if things are left unfinished at the end of the day. You need to maintain your personal life and hobbies outside of the classroom.”

—Jessica Retzlaff, 5th grade teacher, FL

Start an impromptu classroom dance party

“I feel that music soothes the soul and lift the spirits, so when I start to feel overwhelmed, I turn on the music and we start to dance as a class. My students love hearing music when they feel tired — and find the upbeat songs boost happiness and laughter for the rest of the day. I even listen to music when I’m getting ready in the morning to set the tone for teaching. It reminds me how much my students depend on teachers for guidance and nurturing.”

—Quyen Taylor, 2nd grade teacher, CA 

Become a support system for students

“If I get invited to an event for a student, I carve out the time to go. I love letting the students know that they have a support system in and out of the classroom. The events range from church choirs, sporting events, gymnastic meets, and more. Attending their events also allows me to connect with the families, and getting to know the students outside of school. Witnessing the kids grow and change in a multitude of ways during and after school means everything to me.”

—Hannah Dandoy, 3rd grade teacher in NC

Make weekends about family

“Both my husband and I are teachers, and we make it a rule to never take work home over the weekend. That time is sacred time for our family and ourselves to relax and recharge for the next week. We like to go see our granddaughter, and truly prioritize family time. Even when I have tests to grade or homework assignments to read, I remind myself that things can wait. If we can not find the time for ourselves, we lose ourselves, and therefore can not provide the best of ourselves in that classroom environment.”

—Angela Noack, 10th grade teacher, NC

Incorporate fresh air into the day

“I like to end the day with a walk, a run, or working in the garden. I think connecting with nature in the fresh air is rejuvenating, and it helps me relieve stress throughout the day. As a mom of five,  a teacher of sixteen years, and a wife of a fifth grade teacher, I’ve learned that time to recharge must be scheduled in.”

—Sara McMaster, 3rd grade teacher, NM 

Switch up teaching strategies

“I have been teaching eighth grade US History for over fifteen years, and there are  times when teaching the same content year after year becomes monotonous. The way that I cope with this is by changing up how I present the lesson. I can’t change the content so I change how I teach it. I scour the internet or ask colleagues for different lesson ideas, and try to change it up as much as I can from year to year. It helps keep me engaged in what I’m teaching, and keeps the lessons exciting for the students.”

—Andrea Farmer, 8th grade teacher, PA

Take time to unplug

“I’ve learned that teaching is about finding balance, and that starts with taking time away from devices. If you think about teaching like your phone, you would not wait until your battery is at zero to charge it. You have to find things to plug into daily that give you a fresh charge. For me it’s things like family time, walking, writing, and taking photos. I make sure I do at least one of these with no distractions, no tech, and no work to interfere.”

—Anonymous teacher

Remind yourself it’s OK to say no

“A practice I try to stick to when managing my to-do list is to sometimes just say ‘no’ when I have too much on my plate.  It might be hard at first, but very recently I started to evaluate multiple projects I was working on, and realized I needed to decline or delegate at least one task. This decision proved to be the right one because the teacher I asked to help was more than happy to and I was able to offer assistance when needed. Give yourself the permission to politely decline.”

—Dawn Athas, 5th grade teacher, NY

Teach the “whole student”

“One tactic that has helped me avoid burnout is learning to teach the whole student. If you have a student struggling with a behavior problem, find out what they love and help them. Some of my students have a lot of things bad that have happened to them, and it’s important to keep that in mind. If you show your students you care for them, they’ll notice. It makes it easier to teach, and it’s incredibly rewarding.”

—Anonymous teacher

Tune out the negativity

“I have learned the negativity is what brings me down, and as a teacher, it’s important to stay positive and optimistic. Most importantly, close your ears to any rumors, negativity or unkind words you hear. It will only make you feel worse and the goal is to remove any type of negativity.”

—Serena Ramirez, 2nd grade teacher, NY

Lean on other teachers

“I am lucky to have a co-teacher to share the brunt of everything with me. When we feel overwhelmed, we talk about it and help each other prioritize. We find that lists work best and really put things into perspective. We figure out who is in charge of completing which tasks. We designate different projects, and help each other out whenever we can.”

––Marisa Stolte, 4th grade teacher, NY

Keep in touch with former students

“I always look forward to visits from former students, telling me how they are doing. In doing so, I remind myself that I may not see it yet, but later down the line, my teaching will benefit the students I teach. It helps put things in perspective when I feel stressed out.”

—Tran Polizzi, 6th grade teacher, CA

Declutter your inbox

“I check my email every day. If an email requires me to do something, it stays in my inbox until it is complete.  If the email is informing me of something, I move it to the correct folder and file it away until I need it. These keeps my email clutter free, and the priority items at my fingertips. It’s a quick stress-reliever that makes a serious difference.”

—Michelle Vultaggio, kindergarten teacher, MI

Look back on your own childhood

“I’ve found it helpful to reflect on your own experience in school when growing up — or at least think about how you were when you were your students’ age. Think about the situations that they are going through. When you truly understand your students, their families, their community, you will start to understand their needs to a greater extent and you’ll know what the best practices are for them. The best practice for my students was not from any book or professional development. It was putting myself in their shoes and focusing on their needs.”

—Anonymous teacher

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  • Marina Khidekel

    Chief Content Officer at Thrive

    Marina leads strategy, ideation and execution of Thrive's content company-wide, including cross-platform brand partnership and content marketing campaigns, curricula, and the voice of the Thrive platform. She's the author of Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive. In her role, Marina brings Thrive's audience actionable, science-backed tips for reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well-being, and shares those insights on panels and in national outlets like NBC's TODAY. Previously, Marina held senior editorial roles at Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, where she edited award-winning health and mental health features and spearheaded the campaigns and partnerships around them.