Remembering to Take Care of Ourselves

An Open Letter to Ohio World Language Teachers

Maureen Gerber, OFLA Secondary Language Learning Committee Chair
French Teacher, World Language Department Head, Perrysburg High School

Dear Colleagues,

One thing that has struck me as I’ve begun school in our hybrid model this year is my students.

The students are incredible. They are eager. They are driven. They are grateful. And for the first time in my career, I see a true appreciation that they have for their teachers.

One student says “Thank you” after every class.

And so, as we navigate fall here in Ohio, whether our situation is full-time in-person learning, hybrid learning, or fully remote, I’m hoping that we can all take a moment to remember what makes our jobs so wonderful. That is, of course, our connection with our kids.

It has been and continues to be a tough time. Here are some ideas for self-care, more critical than ever in this unprecedented time.  

  1. Try to have something of a routine. Routine is something so basic for teachers. Our days at school are ruled by bells and general happy chaos that is, however, routine. Now, at home, regular times to get up, eat, exercise, and relax are crucial. Whether you are fully remote or hybrid, resist the urge to work all of the time.  Admittedly, I am still working on this one.
  2. Try to pull away from the computer. I, myself, am so guilty of the “just a few more minutes” syndrome. There is always another assignment that pops up to grade, or another fun technique to try. There is so much wonderful PD right now to help us. BUT, we must unplug. We must prioritize. We must forego some of this for our own sanity. Burnout is real, and with our new educational models due to COVID, burnout is a true danger. We need to pull away, read a book, make dinner, tackle a cleaning project, or decorate for fall…even if you may not be having the gatherings you usually would. I know of people who keep “gratitude journals.” It’s supposed to be a great way to find balance, and that is what we need in this world of ours right now. I’m planning to start one right after writing this article.
  3. Use the computer to learn something new, just for you! There are tutorial videos and websites for everything.  For example, you can learn yoga or maybe a new language online. Perhaps you can learn how to cook something special, knit a scarf, crochet a vest, or make a piece of furniture or a birdhouse by looking online. I truly think that using our hands is calming and rejeuvenating. As for me, my newest project will be seasonal holiday masks to wear in class. Now, this will require a trip to the fabric shop but the act of cutting the fabric and sewing the masks is so calming. And knowing my students will enjoy seeing masks for le Halloween, le Jour des Actions de Grace (Thanksgiving, which of course is not a French holiday but which does lend itself to especially fun mask ideas), Noël, snowflakes and snowmen for January and lots of hearts for February. I’m personally stopping there in hopes that our need for masks will wane come March, but one never knows.
  4. Organize something. Is there a stack of teaching stuff that needs to be re-filed and re-done? I think now is the time. Maybe you’ll find something you loved that you forgot about or clean closets for the new season. There might be photos to get ready for year’s end too. I’ve always admired people who changed up their framed family photos for holidays (see masks above, holidays appear to be a personal interest of mine). But, maybe this is the year for me to find holiday pictures of the kids through the years and to put them in frames all over the house—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. They probably won’t be here as much to visit, and those lovely memories will soothe my heart.
  5. Give yourself permission to just “be.” As teachers, we often feel we must be “doing,” doing something important and meaningful for our profession or our new unit.  Maybe now not so much. Maybe a cup of coffee and an afternoon just to regroup, in whatever way we wish, is the very best thing for our mental health at the moment. Other ideas to just “be” could be a walk in the park, window shopping, a picnic with your significant other, or a nap.  Make it something simple, easy, relaxed.

In class, what we do and how we do it will never be as important to our kids as who we are and how we relate to them. They will remember how we made them feel much more than what we taught them. Now, more than ever, they need us: our wit, our passion for our subject, and our well-honed attention to the craft of teaching. Our step-by-step approach to learning not only teaches them our languages, but soothes them. Our sparkling eyes over the masks reassures them. Our silly theatrics and exaggerated reactions make them laugh. Our love for them and our subject spills out into our classes and goes with our kids as they make their way through their day.   We, ourselves, are our gift to them.  

You are all very special. You are rock stars.

In the midst of all of this work and stress, I’m hoping we will all take 5 for ourselves to recharge, regroup and rebound. Because as everyone saw last spring, education just does not happen well without us.

YOU are so necessary, so important, and so valued.

Hang in there.

Be well!

Maureen

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