By Teachers, For Teachers
Teachers are perpetually selfless individuals, expending every last bit of energy morning, noon, and night for their students and families. While we certainly have summer to look forward to for that cherished recoup time, we definitely reach our “low-energy” valley long before June. In fact, after the energizing rush of the first few week’s transitions into the agonizing push through the rest of the year, we realize that we definitely need to figure out how to have more energy throughout our days.
Fortunately, energy is not something that has to elude us. Energy comes from a combination of physical and psychological habits that, if managed appropriately, can transform us from a zombie to a mighty mouse. Take a look at these helpful (and possibly obvious) methods for how to have more energy.
1. Get more sleep. OK, we’ll start with the obvious one. We all know that managing our sleep schedule will give us more energy, so why don’t we do it better? The truth is, actually, that even though we stay up late grading papers and preparing lessons, it’s really doing us more harm than good. Getting a thorough night’s sleep consistently actually gives us long-lasting energy, which in turn makes us more productive during the day. So instead of dragging yourself through the day only to try to become productive by burning the midnight oil, establish a set “bedtime” for yourself and stick to it.
Of course, you have to manage your sleep and not be controlled by it. Set a firm “wake up time” too, and stick to it. Don’t hit that snooze; don’t start a mad dash as soon as you get out of bed. When your body gets on a sleep and wakefulness routine, it automatically boosts your energy during the day. Good sleep patterns enable you to give more of yourself to your students during the day, and generally make you a healthier and more positive person.
2. Eat a good breakfast. You’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s true! A solid start to your day (like getting enough sleep) is a solid way to have long-lasting energy. So do NOT skip breakfast. Also, do NOT just rely on carbs (like a bagel or toast) to give you anything more than a brief boost.
A good breakfast should satisfy you without making you feel stuffed. Ideally, it has a few carbs (like toast or cereal) combined with rich fibers and proteins (like eggs, oatmeal, and nuts). For a bonus, add fruit (bananas or grapefruit) and a nice glass of OJ. You’ll feel great!
3. Avoid those office sugars. It’s awfully nice when someone brings in donuts or other traditional sugary office snacks. But they could be doing you a disservice! Sugar makes you feel great -- for a really short time span. The only thing more dependable about sugars than their boost is the crash that comes soon afterwards.
A little sugary treat once in a while is OK -- but typically, any indulgence to this sweet siren of snacks ends up cheating your students out of a more energetic and involved version of you.
4. Take a break. Yes, we all agree that there is always something that demands our attention. We know you have to grade papers, prepare lessons, make copies, call parents, complete IEP feedback forms, attend meetings, and on and on and on. We get it. But when we ambitiously pound out task after task, we quickly drain our energy levels to the point of exhaustion.
So, give yourself at least one short break during the day. You can do this in a variety of ways. The best way, though, is simply to put your work aside and do something you enjoy -- even if just for a few minutes. Read a book or magazine; go for a walk; talk to a colleague; travel off campus. Anything that gets you away from work will allow you to feel more energized when you get back to it!
5. Exercise. You knew this one was coming up on the list, didn’t you? Well, it’s true, and I can’t give you a solid list of advice without including this on it. I know you’re thinking that it’s impossible to add one more thing to your schedule, no matter how important you know it can be. But hear me out.
First, what if I told you that adding exercise to your schedule would actually make you more productive? This means that by making yourself healthier, you would also turn yourself into a person who could complete tasks faster.
And second, what if I told you that there are simple ways to fit exercise into your schedule? Some teachers I know show up to work just 30 minutes earlier and find a place to simply walk quickly. Other teachers do the same thing at the end of their day. You can bring your walking shoes to work, right? Other teachers I know have signed up for an exercise class at their local gym – which is an inexpensive solution that helps keep them accountable. Seriously -- just TRY IT. Even if it doesn’t work out for you, at least you tried.
6. Smile. Most teachers are naturally positive people, so leverage that intrinsic optimism by making sure that you genuinely smile as often as possible. Forget “don’t smile until Christmas” and start on day one. The more you smile, the better you feel; and the better you feel, the more likely you are have long-lasting energy. Now you’ll be happier and more energetic with your students and colleagues – all from an expression!
7. Stand. Take your stand against weariness, literally. Instead of sitting at your desk or around a table, make sure that you get yourself on your feet and moving around throughout the day. You don’t have to wear yourself out, but definitely get yourself on your feet. This habit increases your blood flow and stimulates your body to a more energized state of being.
8. Schedule your electronic usage. Electronics are great, aren’t they? So many aspects of our profession are changing because of these little gadgets. However, they pose a problem. Staring at screens – whether your laptop, desktop, phone, projector, or tablet – saps our energy from us. Most of us rely on these electronics, but when we misuse them they tend to misuse us too.
The advice here is not to avoid electronics; it’s to schedule your usage of them. Resist inundating yourself with electronics too heavily in the mornings and in the afternoons. You don’t need to check your email more than once or twice a day. You don’t need to constantly be communicating or creating materials. Our addiction to these devices distracts us as much as it drains us. Plan out a few specific moments of your day to manage your electronic tasks -- and turn them off for the rest of the day. You won’t regret it.
9. Get exposed to real light. Some schools are built like palaces in the air. Other schools are built like dungeons. Stifling, lifeless dungeons. If you happen to teach in offices or classrooms that fail to provide access to actual real outdoor light – you know, like from the sun – then you have a problem. Find your way to sunshine, quick!
Natural light provides us with vitamin D, which is a healthy ingredient for keeping us happy, sane, and energized. Try to carve time into your day for finding where the sunlight is and exposing yourself to it! It’s doubly important to do this during winter, when sunlight time is at a premium.
10. Eat throughout the day; not in chunks. In addition to eating a good breakfast, you want to have healthy eating habits throughout your day. It’s usually poor policy to eat a large lunch all at one sitting. Even though we cherish our lunch breaks where we can vent about our teaching day with colleagues, avoid loading up on food. A heavy meal makes one tired in the afternoon. And your students deserve the best of you all day long!
What many teachers have successfully begun doing is doing more “snacking” than “lunching.” This means that instead of eating all their food at one point throughout the day, they steadily eat food throughout the entire day. This results in making them feel satisfied – never hungry, never stuffed – throughout the day, and keeps a consistent level of energy up. Of course, all snacks should be healthy stuff!
11. Stretch. You might look like the odd one in the room, but that’s OK. Stretch those muscles! Stretching increases blood flow, and blood flow increases energy. So put those arms in the air, touch your toes, and do arm circles. Stretch your legs. Even do ankle circles. Anything that lets those tightened muscles know that they’re appreciated will do.
12. Drink lots of water/Use caffeine cautiously. We love caffeine because it gives us a decent jolt. But if you’re looking for long-lasting energy, drink water. Water is what our bodies need; water is what makes our bodies work. Coffee and soda actually dry our bodies out, causing weariness and tension. So respect your biology and try to drink about 48 ounces of water throughout your school day. Drink even more at breakfast and dinner too!
13. Splash some water. And water is good for more than just drinking. If you’re feeling down or lackluster, just slip to the nearest water fountain or restroom and do the following: Turn on water, put hand under water, rub hand on back of neck. Feels good, doesn’t it? Repeat this process, rubbing water over your forehead, cheeks, neck, and wrists. Your body will say, “Aaaaaah!” and feel immediately refreshed!
So now you have 13 ways you can feel more energized during your day. Some are easy, some are more challenging. Some are quick, and some are more time-consuming. Some are fun and some are painful. Some are obvious and some you might not have thought of. No matter what you’ve done in the past, now is the time to take control of your energy level. No more trying to deal with low energy and frustrated feelings. No more late nights and exhausted days. No more low periods of productivity.
You don’t have to use all of the suggestions on this list. In fact, just pick one and try it out. If it works, great! If it doesn’t work, no problem. Try something else. The first step toward having more energy for your students is to proactively obtain the habits and mindsets that allow you to feel boosted all day long.
What do you do to learn how to have more energy during the school day? Tell us your energy secrets in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish.