Most days at work, I aspire to be Leslie Knope, Amy Poehler’s character on Parks & Recreation. Leslie is enthusiastic, doggedly pursues her goals, and doesn’t take no for an answer. She does everything with a smile (and also a slightly insane degree of energy). I achieve Leslie-level productivity once in awhile, and I’m pretty pleased with that - after all, she’s fictional. When I do have those magical teaching moments, they’re fulfilling and joyful; they keep me engaged in my work, they keep me aspiring to do better, they make me feel like I’ve achieved the magical state of “flow” that psychologists and science writers talk about. If I’m being perfectly honest though, these magic moments also leave me totally exhausted.
Teachers are given mixed messages about what to do with our exhaustion - we’re told, quite rightly, that you can’t pour from an empty cup. We are also shown images of teachers who are self-sacrificing, who are martyrs to their students’ educations, and who achieve magical success as a result (I’m looking at you, Dangerous Minds). In the last couple of years, we have finally started talking about students’ emotional wellness.
I think it’s also time we start taking care of our own.
Sometimes what we need is a little indulgence - some minor pampering to get us through the day. Those moments, those little actions, those little deeds, those little choices that make us feel pampered - those are our pamper triggers. And if you’re lucky - as lucky as me - those triggers can be ritualized and turned into weekly lunch dates.
My pamper trigger is a simple, wonderful one. Every Friday at 10:55 AM when the bell rings to end fourth period, I join seven of my colleagues outside my classroom, and together we go into town and get pizza for lunch. As small as the gesture is - eating lunch together outside of the building - it does an incredible amount of good for my happiness and well-being.
Pizza Friday, as it has come to be known, has humble origins reaching back to about four years ago; it grew organically out of a series of coincidences. I teach in a small town, so our lunch options are limited: pizza, bagels, and (until recently) a deli. A few of us went out together, a few more joined, and all of a sudden our routine was born. Pizza is indulgent - it’s cheesy and hot and wonderful and probably also has curative properties (this is a scientifically unconfirmed assertion, but I dare you to eat a slice of pizza without immediately feeling awesome).
The ritual, however, has come to mean something more than a culinary indulgence - it’s a time that all eight of us set aside exclusively for the purpose of decompressing and self-care. On Fridays, working through lunch in your classroom is not an option.
Pizza Friday waits for no man.
Our students have come to enjoy the ritual, too. We all advise clubs that meet during lunch, and we all offer extra help during our lunch periods. Once Pizza Friday came into being, however, the kids knew that it was a day that was off limits. And you know what? They don’t resent it. They get a kick out of it. This year, the “Pizza Squad” (which is what the kids have come to call us) will be featured in the yearbook. In years past, we’ve had graduating seniors join us for the final Pizza Friday of the year. The guys who work at the restaurant are a mix of former students and people from town; they greet us by name when we walk in the door, and ask about how the week has been.
This little indulgence of taking forty five minutes to be around adults, to eat a thoroughly unhealthy lunch, and to do so away from my desk works wonders for my mood. It’s one of the little things that I do for myself that I’m striving to do more of - because I cannot treat my students well when I am not treating myself well. Modeling is one of teaching’s most powerful strategies, but we need to expand the way we think of it. It is time we model not only good work habits, but good self-care habits as well.
After all, even Leslie Knope needs a little indulgence sometimes, and if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me. TZT
Shari Krapels is a high school English teacher who, when she is not eating pizza, loves to read, write and think about education. Her love for her job is surpassed only by her love for all things Harry Potter, her very sweet dog, her decidedly less sweet cat, and her husband (who is also an English teacher, and who also loves all the aforementioned items). When she is not in the classroom, Shari can be found curled up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a book, or traveling the world.
I want to thank Shari for sharing her experience with a Pamper Ritual based on the idea of Pamper Triggers that we talked about last week in this inaugural GUEST POST for THE ZEN TEACHER blog.
If YOU would like to write a guest post for THE ZEN TEACHER on any aspect of Zen, Mindfulness, Self-Care, or Personal Well-being, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll make a plan! I would LOVE to hear from you!