Why do teachers feel guilty when they look after themselves?

I got shingles last week. Shingles is the disease you get when you’re overworking , stressed and have lowered immunity, which causes the chicken pox virus that has been lying dormant in your nerves to break loose and cause havoc. It’s not pleasant. Look it up if you’re curious.

I guess I have been overworking. While I am on maternity leave, I have been doing a lot of work while also parenting a baby and a three year old. The work was voluntary. I chose to do it. I enjoy working. 5 days a week I would work try to squeeze in what I usually do in a 7 hour work day into 3 hours, while the children napped, plus concurrently making puréed baby food, washing dishes, laundry and all the domestic stuff. No wonder I got shingles.

So for the last week, I haven’t done any work. When the kids napped, I napped or watched TV. But I felt guilty. It’s a special kind of guilt called teacher guilt. It is a feeling many teachers get whenever they are not working and taking time to look after themselves. I’ve been having teacher guilt since I started teaching. If you’re sick you feel guilty for not showing up to class and causing inconvenience to your colleagues. When you’re at home sick, you feel guilty for not checking emails or marking or working on the school plan or something else. You feel guilty in the holidays if you’re not making programs, marking, etc. If you search the hashtag #teacherguilt on Instagram hundreds of photos of teachers saying the feel guilty because they are sick or relaxing on school holidays. I don’t think other professions have this guilt. I haven’t heard of accountants saying they feel guilty whilst on holidays because they aren’t doing tax returns for their clients.

Perhaps teachers can sometimes love their jobs too much and care about others too much that they neglect themselves. So from now on I’m going to make a conscious effort to look after myself more because I’m no use to students or my colleagues if I don’t.

(I still have shingles so today I went out for coffee instead of working while the baby napped.)

One thought on “Why do teachers feel guilty when they look after themselves?

  1. Clergy have it – feeling they should be working on their day off, always planning the next talk/project in their heads, saying yes to meetings 7s a week and feeling guilty when on holiday because they have had to say ‘no’ to someone’s funeral. It comes with the territory. Difficult to overcome. Have to build your own boundaries which is not easy to do. Hope you feel better soon and please be kind to yourself, your body (and emotions) need it!

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