When a link to Health magazine’s “27 Mistakes Healthy People Make” by Anne Harding popped up next to my email log-in last week, I knew I had to check it out (9 September, 2012). As I flipped through the slides, it occurred to me why. Some of these are issues that experienced teachers face.
Begging Ms. Harding’s understanding of my slanting her points toward educators, I present six of these errors here.
1. “You don’t read food labels”
Harding says that even healthy people forget to read food labels. They then make assumptions that are not always true. For example, natural or low-fat options are not automatically healthier than other options.
Experienced teachers tend to do something similar with regard to students. Sometimes faculty get so confident in their past successes, knowledge of the curriculum, and teaching methods, they forget to read the students or to consider what options may truly be best for them. For instance, although a faculty member may have taught a course dozens of times, each group of students who enters a F2F or online classroom is different. This is true individually as well as collectively. At each course meeting, the mood of the course may be different than expected. The lesson plan that worked well for a morning class may not go over so well with an evening course.
It’s important that teachers read their students carefully and choose what is truly the healthiest option for teaching and learning that day.
2. “Skipping check-ups”
Another mistake Harding says healthy people make is skipping checkups. She explains, “Many people may not bother to go for well visits, but just go to see a doctor when they’re sick or in pain. This can mean missing important screening tests, which can catch problems early when they are much more treatable…” (9 September, 2012).
Some experienced teachers make a similar error. They may reuse the same curriculum, the same materials, and the same approaches semester after semester, year after year. Students are expected to conform to this rigid approach. I once worked with a colleague who boasted that he had “all of his syllabi and materials copied for the next five years.”
Although he was the extreme exception rather than the norm, faculty must choose to make a “well visit” to their approach to lessons. There’s nothing wrong with consulting with colleagues even when teaching and learning are going well. Why not find fresh and exciting approaches to keep yourself and your students engaged in the material? Better learners catch your excitement more than your boredom. To glean from Thomas Carlyle, let you and your students suffer from exhaustion rather than boredom.
3. “Smart people; not so smart moves.”
This is a tough point. Harding points out that even well-informed people who eat nutritiously, exercise regularly, and make healthy choices overall, sometimes “have habits or beliefs that can put them at risk for illness or injury down the road (9 September, 2012).
For experienced faculty, this often comes down to an unjustified sense of entitlement. As a chair and a former faculty assembly president, for example, I have been asked to referee battles between instructors who claim a desk, file cabinet space, or the 15-minutes between their classes starting/stopping. Their argument is usually along an unjustified sense of entitlement, such as, “I have taught here longer than you.” Another scenario is when a faculty member interviews for a full-time position and is not offered the job. He or she sometimes becomes so distraught over the thought that that job should have been mine, that angry email or other inappropriate communications are sent.
Although the emotional side of this is understandable—faculty work hard and receive little, if any recognition for their efforts—unprofessional behavior quickly derails a career. For instance, if you are a part-time faculty member and you receive an interview for a full-time position, you have been noticed for your efforts. Although not getting the job offer is disappointing, realize there may have been dozens or even hundreds of applicants, and you were chosen to be among the three-six that are typically interviewed. Also, it’s almost a cliché for hiring committee members to express the wish that they could hire most or all of the people interviewed. Unfortunately, there is only one job opening. They may have something else in mind for you in the future.
Be smart. Keep making smart moves.
4. “You Don’t Socialize Enough”
Faculty have a tendency to isolate themselves from others. Given our workload, this is understandable. With lessons to plan, assignments to evaluate, professional development, and other such responsibilities, who has time to socialize? However, as Harding shares, there are long term health benefits to be gained or lost based upon our level of socialization. Here are a few ideas on how you can improve in this area:
• Be friendly during the day, while you’re at work. It takes little time to smile and say hello to a colleague in the hall or office. Chatting with students before and after class a bit won’t take away much from your busy schedule either.
• Consider completing some of your work in a faculty lounge or break area and invite other faculty to join you.
• Start a tradition, such as going to lunch with colleague the Friday before a semester starts or an open invitation to meet up at a restaurant for dinner one night a week.
• Enjoy virtual gatherings and celebrations; take advantage of social media options for socialization.
The camaraderie, community, and support you will quickly find if you can take some of these simple steps can provide you with health benefits that last a career and a lifetime.
5. “You Skimp on Sleep”
Harding shares that “Studies have consistently shown that people need at least seven hours of sleep a night for optimal health, and short sleep has been associated with a host of health problems, including high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, and a reduced immune response to vaccines” (9 September, 2012). However, what do most of us in education do? We skimp on sleep.
Given the amount of work that is piled upon faculty, the stress, and the need to make a living for many adjunct faculty by piecing together a schedule from multiple institutions, it’s no wonder sleep is hard to come by. Complaints about some of the symptomatic health issues that come with lack of sleep are also common among faculty.
You are less effective as an instructor if you skimp on sleep. Make getting at least seven hours each night a priority.
6. “You delay medical care”
In spite of health concerns, such as the lack of sleep, teachers often tend to put off getting preventative or necessary medical care. There is a pervading sentiment that students must come first and that sick or not, educators must be at work each day.
As a 2007 report in the BBC noted, “One in three [teachers] will have mental health problems [especially depression and anxiety] at some point due to the stress of the job,” along with a host of other physical ailments that come with them (9 April, 2007). The most common complaints typically connect with the symptoms of sleep deprivation described above.
The reality is that faculty will serve students better by allowing themselves time to maintain their health and to seek treatment and healing as needed.
I share these six mistakes not to denigrate experienced teachers but to encourage you to take care of yourselves. You are too valuable to your students and to our society to lapse into these pitfalls of our profession.
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