As someone who has spent nearly two decades writing about teachers and working with teachers, I often get asked some form of this question:
“What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to any teacher?”
It sounds like a deceptively simple question—something that might lead to an inspirational cliche or a long, thoughtful pause followed by, “Well. . . it depends.”
But I have a definite answer, and it’s one I believe in strongly.
Get enough sleep.
When you haven’t slept, you automatically become a worse version of yourself—forgetful, impatient, and worse at making decisions. You have trouble thinking critically. You are more likely to overreact.
The above is merely a summary of the huge amount of sleep-related research out there. I wish I’d learned about it earlier in my teaching career.
Instead, I mostly learned that teachers were supposed to do “whatever it takes,” because “failure” was “not an option!” And so, in my efforts to be a great teacher, I often stayed up waaay past what should have been my bedtime.
Spoiler alert: it did not make me great. Instead, it meant that, in addition to all the other challenges my students faced, they had a teacher whose emotional rubber band was constantly stretched to its breaking point. I was in no position to process what was happening in my classroom. I did not have the emotional reserves to show compassion to my students.
There were days when I felt as though the nine-year-olds in my classroom knew I had stayed up until 2:00 am planning lessons and were now choosing to throw those efforts in my face by behaving badly. Needless to say, this feeling didn’t bring out the best in me. I took everything personally and lost my temper all the time. Almost all of my most regrettable moments in the classroom happened on less than five hours of sleep.
Now, whenever someone asks for the one piece of advice I’d give to any teacher, this is what I go back to.
The good news is that this is an area of your professional life where you can make change almost immediately. You can’t turn your classroom around in one day, but you can aim for a decent night of sleep tonight.
Try it. See how things look in the morning.