Habit 4: Personal Habits

Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

This is the fourth in a series of articles entitled 5 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers.

1193074_monthly_fees_1What are some of the personal habits that are important to me?

Personal Procedures
What are some of the personal habits that are important to me? As I’m sitting here in the middle of the summer writing this, I realize that some of my structure has left my life. I stay up too late, and I wake up too late. I take longer than normal getting ready in the morning, and I sit and read a lot more now than I do during the school year. But disregarding that, here are some of the things that are important to me to keep my sanity outside of work hours during the school year.

  1. Wake up early
    But don’t wake up early only to spend an extra hour on the computer before you leave for work. I don’t go online before work. I don’t even check email every day. Twice a week is enough. Urgent problems will become less urgent in a couple of days.
  2. Meditate
    This is the reason I wake up early. For me, this time includes prayer and Bible reading. It also includes playing with my dogs some, taking a long shower, and thinking about the upcoming day. I usually take a walk with my dogs in the morning also. Kind of like a daily intellectual and psychological detox.
  3. Arrive early
    Since I am awake early, I generally get to school early. We are supposed to arrive by 7:45, but I generally am there by 7:15. This allows me to structure the day a little bit before things get crazy. It also allows me some further meditation time. Again, I don’t check work email in the morning.
  4. Drink water
    I stopped drinking caffeine in August of 2006 and started drinking water nearly exclusively in March of 2007. I cannot tell you how much better it makes me feel. My quality of life is better simply by making that change. Fruits and vegetables are very high in water content. Eating more of those will make you feel better because of that, in addition to the added nutrients. If you make one change only from this, make sure it is this step. It has transformed the quality of my life and I am much less tired, even when I don’t get a lot of sleep.
  5. Exercise
    For me, this comes in the form of walking my dogs one or two times a day. It’s not training for a marathon, but it does keep the blood flowing and gives me more energy throughout the day.
  6. Relax
    Consciously ignore things that don’t add peace to your life. Don’t keep up with the news. It is counterproductive to relaxation. When something major happens, you’ll find out as soon as you need to. Ask people what’s new in the world and if you need to know, they’ll ask you about it. Timothy Ferriss calls this “practicing selective ignorance.”
  7. Socialize
    As a teacher in a small town, it becomes very easy for me to just eat, sleep, and breathe school. Even if it’s spending time with other teachers, make an effort to have a social life. It helps if you can spend time away from educational facilities and educators, though. Go out and meet people.
  8. Go to sleep early
    Unless you’re out being social, it’s a great idea to go to sleep early. For me, this means being in bed before 11:00. For others, that is late. If I had my way, I would stay up until past midnight most every night, but I find that makes it very difficult to wake up early, and I end up having a rushed day all day long. So I make the sacrifice.
  9. Keep private matters private
    One of the common mistakes that educators make is to give out personal information too easily. Any time I am in contact with a student or parent, it could potentially be construed as official school business. For this reason, I am extremely careful who gets my cell phone number. For the sake of privacy, often when I get local phone calls that are not in my phonebook, I do not answer them. Ultimately, this goes back to my communication procedures in that I answer my phone on my timeframe. Releasing this stress creates a lot of added peace in my life, not feeling like I have to run to answer a phone call. A strategic voicemail message that indicates that emergency information only should be left on the voicemail is another way of avoiding added stress. I’ll write more on this whole issue later on, I’m sure.
READ  Where Have YOU Been?

This is my personal list. I’m sure plenty of people have other things that work well for them. The key is stepping back and analyzing what really works for you and what doesn’t. If something is in place that doesn’t benefit you, get rid of it and replace it with either more relaxation time or something else that will benefit you in the long-run.

9 Comments on Habit 4: Personal Habits

  1. OMG. . . This was an excellent post.

    The only thing I would like to add to this list is somehow we as teachers need to keep our “personal time, personal.” Because I am the cheer “coach” at my school, I gave out my cell #, b/c of games & such. Dealing with pick up of girls,etc. I think this was a bad idea in retrospect. I get calls all times of the day, even when I’m on vacation about “silly” stuff. I wish I had just given out an email address. Parents and children don’t necessarily have respect for my personal and private time.

  2. Re: Miss A’s comment: I taught at a school in Augusta, GA where the personal information of faculty and staff – name, address, telephone number- was published in the parent directory. So, I can related to being called, and at all hours of the day and night, about silly things.

  3. Joel, I have some additions re: privacy: Be careful what you share with colleagues.

    There was a time in my life when I was going through a lot of personal stuff, and, as I was very far away from my support system, I came to rely heavily on colleagues. As a result, I shared things that I otherwise might not have. This resulted in an unhealthy co-dependency, which, unfortunately, was the M.O. of the school. It relied on co-dependent relationships on all levels to keep everyone in step. I was also younger and less mature. All of this to say: I am now *very* selective re: not only with what I share, but with whom, and operate on a “need to know” basis. Perhaps this makes me seem somewhat distant, but, I believe that one’s colleagues need not know everything about me. Which is why I stay away from the faculty lunch table as often as possible, which serves as the faculty room at my place of employ.

  4. Well, do remember – no one MAKES you answer your phone. I’m careful about what I put online, but less careful in person. Our cell phones have caller ID, and if it’s important, whoever it is will leave a message anyway.

  5. I like how you included socialize in here, because even though it’s so important, when we get busy this is often the first thing to be dropped. Good work.

  6. Your suggestions for relaxing reminded me of a vocabulary lesson. The prof introduced the word “recuse,” which is similar in meaning to excuse. Since learning that word (and that concept!) I have recused myself from pro football; I’m really not interested, and trying to keep up with the players, stats and scores for the purpose of engaging in small talk with male friends was simply too much work. So I gave up, and I’m relieved.

  7. Yes… I truly agree with what Joel says…. Sometimes we need to step back and focus on important things… Teachers do need peace in their mind… Then, you’ll have time to socialize… taking care your self and business… However be careful with any serious commitment since poor relationship would somehow effects how you present your self in front of the class…

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