You Can’t Do All the Things: Healthy Teachers, Healthy Classrooms

October 2, 2018 admin

It’s October! For teachers in the US, that means the honeymoon period of back-to-school is long-gone. We’re settling in for that stretch until Thanksgiving.

Maybe we rushed into the school year with an armload of amazing new ideas and systems. And for some of us, now is the time of year when it starts crashing down.

Cue the guilt, because that teacher over there was raving about her new grading scheme, and his dynamic MovieTalks, and her new password system, and exit tickets, and bell-ringers, and succulent-Coco-unicorn-themed room.

Meanwhile, some of us forgot to take attendance the whole day and arrived to school with wet hair. We’re wondering why everybody else can do all the things, and we can’t.

Okay, let’s put the brakes on, friends: no one is doing all the things.

No one! We all share the parts we love and are passionate about. Social media gives us a peek into the strongest parts of other classroom: the highlights, if you will.

Some teachers love to decorate. For them, it’s life-giving. Other teachers rock at assigning meaningful projects with detailed rubrics. And others have that big, crazy personality where they can whip up hilarious stories and games on the spot.

If you want to be the best teacher you can be, chances are you feel like you should be doing all the good things other people are doing. Am I right?

I’ve slowly realized there’s a difference between doing all the things, and doing the good things I can do. 

If you think about the health world, it’s like a bottomless pit of stuff you could be doing. The supplements, the superfoods, the cleanses, the yoga and CrossFit, all the good stuff.

Obviously, if you did it all, you would collapse under the excess. “All the things” almost never equals “healthy.”

The pressing question is really this: are you healthy?

Are you healthy, as a teacher?
Are your students healthy?
Is your classroom healthy?

This question doesn’t give us permission to survive on French fries and coffee and call it a day. Nor can we try 1,000 shiny new ideas at once, and call ourselves healthy.

We want to teach well, right? The mentality of “healthy” helps us to sift through the waves of great ideas continually washing up on shore. It might mean taking steps to deal with our anxiety and controling our social media intake.

And it’s more, too! Healthy means not expecting to be all the good things. The weird thing about being human is that we inevitably come with our own pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, and life experiences.

People who are super-extroverted sometimes have trouble understanding the anxious, shy child. The uber-organized teacher may get stuck decorating, the one who comes up with hilarious stories might lose track of paperwork, and another who creates rich cultural units might struggle with discipline.

I’m not a native speaker, for example. I make mistakes and sometimes question whether I should be teaching Spanish at all! There’s a silver lining, though: I can model what learning a second language looks like. I can pick myself up after an error and keep trying. I can empathize with my students’ fears about speaking and model how I’m constantly trying to learn more.

So here’s one more thing to remember: students don’t need teachers with every strength in the world, every period.

Different students will identify more strongly with certain teachers, over the years and in different classes. You can only be the best version of you, not the best version of everybody.

Sometimes I cringe when I think about my weaknesses. Especially that one year: my disorganization, my stacks of yet-to-be-graded papers, the bulletin board in the back that stayed blank THE ENTIRE YEAR.

The students knew I had a 1-year-old at home; my expanding belly and constant nausea were also hard to miss. They could see I was juggling a lot.

They also saw that I loved teaching Spanish, and I think they felt how much I enjoyed them and our crazy antics in class. I was going full-on CI for the first time, and they were learning more Spanish than any other students I’d taught.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was as healthy as I could reach for, then.

Know you’ve been put where you are to offer the students your own strengths, in that period you’ve got together.

My students saw a realistic picture of the working mom life, not some dazzling picture of perfection. Maybe that was better for them, especially for my female students who were making decisions about their own futures and careers.

When I scroll through social media, I still feel myself wanting to be and do all the good things. I’m trying to maximize the things I’m really good at, and offer even my weaknesses as something my students can learn from.

And you know what? The great ideas will keep coming, like waves that don’t stop. Back in the day, we returned from conferences slightly overwhelmed; now it’s every time we hop onto social media.

It’s the new era of teaching, with its own pros and cons. Let’s make healthy classrooms our goal–healthy selves our goal!– as October begins.



  • Nicole October 2, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    Thank you, Elisabeth! I really needed those. Beautiful words that really resonated with me

  • Unknown October 3, 2018 at 6:58 pm

    Thank you for this. 🙂

  • Unknown October 6, 2018 at 3:21 am

    Thank you for writing this! I think a lot of teachers will benefit from this! 🙂

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