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5 Minute Clinic: The Guide to Guilt-Free Days OFF As A Teacher

If you’re a teacher, have been a teacher, or even know a teacher, then you understand that teaching isn’t just a profession. It becomes wrapped into our identity. Your “teacher hat”, as they call it, never comes off.

While that may seem admirable for folks on the outside looking in, I think those of us who understand the real deal can attest to just how intrusive that identity is when we need and want to separate our “teacher selves” and enjoy time with friends, family, or even with ourselves. Heck, teacher guilt even creeps in when we are sick and we need to take time off. We tell ourselves (and our teacher besties) that “it’s just easier to show up". We convince ourselves and the people around us that things will fall apart or our classroom will be worse off if we don’t show up.

When I was teaching, especially in those first 5 years, I never took days off. And the few times, I did, I still showed up to school early to make sure everything was perfect for the sub. I remember, one time, I actually had strep throat and I could not be convinced not to go to school to double-check my lessons and materials. I had prepared everything already but the guilt crept in and made me second-guess the work I had already done.

I don’t want you or any other teacher to be like me! You deserve to take guilt-free days off whether they are sick days or personal days. Some of the tips I’m going to share require some time investment up front but I promise the return on investment is worth it.

I recommend starting by choosing ONE of these strategies that really speaks to you and modifying it in a way that works for your teaching environment. So, without further adieu, let’s hop into some strategies for how you can start taking guilt-free days off!

Tips to Take Guilt-Free Days Off

Plan ahead to schedule days off.

As soon as the yearly schedule for your school is available for that year, review and compare your employee holidays and your accrued days off. Then, decide on a day (or two) that you would like to take off. Maybe you already know there are certain days you need (or want) to take off. Go ahead and request those days off as soon as possible to give yourself the best chance at getting the time approved. Knowing you have the time off gives you a certain confidence as you plan ahead!

Find/create a lesson plan template to integrate into daily routines.

Consider creating or finding a lesson plan template you can integrate into your daily classroom routine. I’m not just talking about your teacher’s only lesson plan - you know, that one that stays pulled up on your laptop or clamped to your clipboard. While that’s important, I’m also talking about a digital template that is accessible to students. It might include instructions for certain lesson activities and directions for the flow of the day. If you teach younger students, maybe your template uses lots of visual cues and pictures that help students navigate the directions. You can also consider using a student-accessible template during certain times of the school day like centers or small group math stations. Using a predictable template can streamline your current classroom routines, promote student confidence, and make the transition for substitute teachers a breeze.

Implement built-in breaks into your routine.

Consider implementing built-in breaks to classroom instruction and work sessions. In my classroom, I loved using the Pomodoro technique where students would work for 25 minutes and then they’d have 5 minutes of break time. By chunking the class period or even the school day into smaller, more digestible sessions, the productivity of my class skyrocketed. My students were extra focused during those work sessions because they looked forward to the 5-minute break. I’ll be honest and say that I looked forward to those breaks too!

Release expectations for how students behave for a sub.

Another tip for taking guilt-free days is to reevaluate and release your expectations for how students will behave with a sub. It’s every teacher’s dream to return to their classroom after a day off and read a report that the class was perfect, but it’s rarely any teacher’s reality. You as the teacher have spent weeks or months building relationships with students who know and trust you. A sub, on the other hand, coming in ‘cold.’ While it’s reasonable to have some expectations, adjust those expectations to reflect the awareness of the difference in relationship.

Reflect on your teaching philosophy.

Finally, if you’re still struggling to shed the teacher guilt, consider your own teaching philosophy and what’s most important to you about your impact. Is it more important for you to show up no matter what? Or is it important to you that your students see your humanity? Once you are clear on your values and your impact, you can think about or make a list of all the ways you can’t show up well if you are sick or struggling mentally or emotionally.

I was always very clear about the fact that I wanted my students to become more compassionate empathetic people by being in my classroom. So, whenever I struggled with teacher guilt, I’d ask myself, “How will my choice NOT to take this day off, contribute to (or diminish) my impact?” More often than not, this question helped me frame my days off as necessary for the well-being of myself, my students, and my classroom environment.

If you’re a member of my Insider's Squad, then you already have The Guide to Taking Guilt-Free Days Off! If you’re new here, you too can get the guide for FREE just by joining my squad! Or if you’d rather not subscribe, you can also purchase the guide from Teachers Pay Teachers. The guide has these tips plus it's chock full of my favorite tried and true resources from the Pomodoro timer I love to my favorite digital lesson templates!

I hope this episode empowers you to TAKE YOUR SHAME-FREE, GUILT-FREE DAY.

You deserve it!

Resources Mentioned in This Episode


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