Teachers Need Self-Care, Too: Customized Routines to Combat School Stress

Adrian Gordon • CommentaryMarch 2024 • March 30, 2024

Self-care is the most important guiding principle to have at the forefront of any music education position. Whether you are starting from scratch, rebuilding, or maintaining an already great music program, it is important to set boundaries for yourself, so the work doesn’t become overwhelming. There will always be documents to sign, names and faces to learn, things to organize, gradebooks to update, parents to respond to, faculty meetings to attend, and lesson plans to develop. I have been the victim of exhaustion and stress from school which led to health issues like sleeplessness and severe digestion issues. Work never stops, and it never will if you don’t let it. Remember, constant exhaustion is not a badge of honor— it is a sign of health problems to come.

Here are several ideas to remember about your physical health during your transition: 

Take breaks and keep your body moving. 

Remember to take breaks when working for long stretches at a time. (Many smartwatches have a “time to stand up and move” function already built in.)

Stand up, stretch, breathe, walk around, and get some fresh air. Your body needs this! We can sometimes become very sedentary, working behind computers or sitting at our desks. By keeping your body moving, you will keep your mind alert and your blood flowing. 

Use the restroom.

 It may sound ridiculous, but sometimes as educators we get so busy even using the bathroom needs an appointment. Don’t ignore your needs and potentially bring on health problems. Ask for help or class coverage so you can make using the restroom a priority.. 

Eat well. 

As busy as we get tying up loose ends, our food choices sometimes get pushed down to the bottom of our priority list. Don’t let this happen! Make time to make smart, healthy choices about how you fuel your body. Plan and pack some healthy snacks. You’d put gas in your car if the fuel light came on—well, healthy food is the fuel that keeps your body running. Make sure you take care of your body. Having a stash of healthy snacks (fruit or vegetables) at your desk is helpful. No matter what foods you pick, having them available will mean you don’t sacrifice healthy choices in the name of being too busy. 

Don’t lose sleep over it. 

Not only is a good night of sleep essential to your physical health, it is essential for you to do your job effectively. There were many nights my mind would wander and keep me awake for hours when I was supposed to be sleeping. Don’t give up your sleep to a wandering mind. Write things down. If ideas or issues are swirling around in your head, write them down and leave them on the list. Your sleep is sacred! 

Musical Health


As funny as it may sound, sometimes music teachers need to be reminded of their love of music. It can be easy to get caught up in the daily pedagogy of music that, in and of itself, is rewarding. But this is not the same as an aesthetic appreciation for music (practice vs. pleasure). To help combat stress and prevent your relationship with music from becoming purely transactional, make it a point to spend some time each day listening to something old that you like, as well as something brand new. Opening your ears and your mind daily will help you rediscover music as something more than just a teaching tool, more like reconnecting with an old friend. 

Play Your Instrument

As a musician, no matter what instrument you play, it is important to stay connected to it and continue to play on a regular basis. It helps to have a mental and emotional anchor reminding you who you are: a musician. Your practice schedule might look different from the next person, but the important thing is to not give up playing your instrument in favor of paperwork and administrative tasks. Those things will never go away, but your muscle memory and technique on your instrument will. Playing your instrument is not only beneficial to your musical mental health but also an integral part of being the best music educator you can possibly be.

Professional Development

As you grow into your new position, it is also important to recharge your professional music batteries. One of the ways we can combat our professional exhaustion and recharge is to attend professional development conferences. If possible, try to attend these at least once per year. Even if the professional development you pursue is virtual, it is important to keep your teaching practices and musicianship current and fresh. Being around like-minded individuals who are all working toward the common goal of being the best music educators they can be for their students is reinvigorating. 

Overall, strive to keep your music profession from becoming a source of stress that makes you forget how enjoyable music can be aesthetically. Instead, let music be a source of relief. Remember, you can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first.

Adrian Gordon is an internationally performed composer and seasoned music educator and currently serves as the director of orchestras at Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC.

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