Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy: Put on Your Oxygen Mask First

Reclaim the Joy of Teaching

Young woman in blue shirt putting on oxygen mask

You are a VIP: Treat Yourself as One

Imagine you have a student who consistently fails to complete her tasks for the week.

She can’t find the time to get her homework completed.

She is so busy making a stack of flash cards that she has little time left before the test to study them. She doesn’t get it that the object is not just to make the cards but to use them to study for the test.

She seems to be working hard and yet misses the deadline for turning in her book review.

She doesn’t seem to have a clear direction of where she is headed.

She has no obvious goals, or as one teacher said of her student, “Her long-range goal is what’s for lunch.”

She reads little and questions even less.

How long would it be before you sat her down for a serious talk about her future, what her goals are, and the consequences of her actions? Dealing with a student such as this could be considered a frustrating waste of time — or you could use the experience as an exercise in healthy self-reflection for you, the teacher.

What excuses do you use for not getting your work done? You hear excuses from your student and can see straight through them. You know what she should be doing.

I had a student who had missed an excessive number of classes, and the fear of being dropped from the class led her to schedule an appointment with me. She told me she missed class because she had been sick. In our discussion, she explained she was working “just to get money to pay for school.” She admitted that when she was “too sick” to attend class, she had gone to work. I said, “So, help me understand: You are working to pay for classes you don’t attend?” The excuse for not attending class made sense to her, but not so much for me.

You hear other people’s excuses, and you see through them. You hear when students’ arguments are illogical, and you wonder how in the world they came to that conclusion.

Why, then, do you not hear excuses from yourself? You know the adage: “To thine own self be true.”

Why are you not uneasy when you recognize your student’s excuses reflected in your own behavior?

Why is your lack of follow through on your goals allowed to continue, even when you know how important these tasks are to your personal and professional growth?

Why do you let your lack of focus overwhelm you?

Why do distractions keep you from accomplishing your mission, your divine purpose as a teacher?

What are you avoiding?

Are you so busy doing that you don’t have time for being?

It’s very common for teachers to struggle with these issues. You care, you want to help, you are giving. You tend to put your students, your family, your friends, and even people you barely know, before yourself.

And you burn out and fall out of love with teaching.

I’m giving you permission right now to stop doing that.

Start treating yourself as the VIP you really are.

It’s time to put your personal and professional growth ahead of that of your students. A radical idea, yes?

Consider this: You must care for yourself first. Don’t concern yourself with what others say. You’re not being selfish; you’re practicing self-care. Only by taking care of yourself will you be able to reach a larger audience, help more people, and achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.

How much has the idea been crammed into your head that you need to help your students not only learn the subject matter and pass tests, but also how to reason, develop self-esteem, deal with bullying, practice self-control, use technology, love learning, follow rules, and prepare for the future? And you do that because that’s who you are as a teacher and that is what is expected of you.

Yet, there’s the small voice inside you that is nagging, “What about me? I have needs, too.” The reality is when your needs are not met, you become frustrated, angry, lethargic, and ultimately, lose that loving feeling about being in the classroom.

You must take care of yourself before you truly can be helpful to someone else.

A case in point: Why do you suppose the flight attendant tells you to put on your oxygen mask before you help your children?

Go ahead. Try these ideas for taking care of yourself!

Make an appointment with yourself.

The simplest way to take charge of your life and your future is to make appointments with yourself.

That hour or two you have free on Thursday afternoon?

Make an appointment with yourself.

Book yourself.

Clearly mark it on your calendar.

Treat this time as an unbreakable appointment, just as you would an appointment with a student’s parent, or your accountant, or your doctor or dentist who would charge a cancellation fee.

Spend the time working on the things that are important to your continued personal and professional growth.

See yourself enjoying your time.

You know that even a little “me time” can create a greater sense of well-being and keep you from falling out of love with teaching.

Focus on one of your goals, and make it a priority.

Remember, there is power in clarity.

What is really important to you?

You already know that simply staying busy doesn’t mean you’re accomplishing your goal.

Focus your energy on a specific goal.

Set a deadline.

Force yourself to rise to the challenge of accomplishing your goal.

When you have completed what you set out to do, bask in your newly found energy! Appreciate that this sense of accomplishment has helped you Reclaim the Joy of Teaching!

Read educational books on success, self-improvement, and history.

Leaders are readers.

Studies of ultra-successful people show that they read a lot of books, tend to be selective about what they read, and most often choose histories, and self-help, and biographies or autobiographies of other successful people.

The average CEO of a company reads four books a month; the average person reads four books a year.

How many books are you reading in a year?

You owe it to yourself to be well-read.

Think of the role-model you can be for your students. They’ll see that reading is not a class but a way to discovering adventure.

The more that you read,
the more things you will know.
The more you learn,
the more places you’ll go.
~ Dr. Seuss

Write 500 words a day.

Write 500 words in your journal or 500 words in the book you say you’re going to write someday.

Pollsters say that 80 percent of Americans want to write a book, but of the 20 percent who actually do, 97 percent never finish it.

Even if you’re not interested in becoming a published author, go ahead and write 500 words a day.

Pick a topic:

  • What did you learn today?
  • For what are you grateful?
  • How did you Reclaim the Joy of Teaching when today’s events could have caused you to lose that loving feeling about being in the classroom?

When you start exercising the writing muscle, you’ll get your creative juice flowing. Plus, it can be quite therapeutic.

You’ll be glad you did!

Reach out to people who inspire you.

Be aware, however, of whom you let near your mind.

Find a mentor who can inspire and guide you, but be aware of a mentor who is appointed by someone else to guide you.

A mentor who isn’t aligned with your values or doesn’t understand your mission can be worse than no mentor. It’s not important to have a mentor just so you can say you have a mentor. It’s important to have a mentor whose character and values, when allied with yours, can help you grow, gain insights, and avoid pitfalls; and who can act as a sounding board.

Again, be careful whom you let near your mind! Attitudes are catching.

In short, do those things that you tell your students to do —
the things your own mentor should be advising you to do.

Don’t push these things aside for later or after the tests are graded. They only work if you do.

Elevate yourself to VIP status, and start putting yourself first.

Put on your oxygen mask first.

If you don’t, the rest doesn’t count.

Thank yourself!

Last, thank yourself for taking care of you.


You’re a VIP.

Stop being your own worst enemy.

Put on your oxygen mask first!

smiling emoji with open hands

Let us hear from you. What is your story? How did you stop being your own worst enemy? What happened because you put on your oxygen mask first? How do you claim VIP status? Post your story.

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Lynette Relyea thumbnail photoLYNETTE RELYEA
~ The Teacher’s Mentor
~ Speaker
~ Author, Best Selling Book: Reclaim the Joy of Teaching: The 7-Step Guide for Teachers Who Have Lost that Loving Feeling and Want to Fall in Love All Over Again with Teaching