March 15, 2017
Online Journal - Secure Your Own Mask First
Ronda Ziakris, Central Alberta Administrative Principal, Lacombe, AB

I stowed my luggage in the overhead compartment, settled into my designated seat and buckled my seatbelt, as is the usual routine when getting ready to take flight. I have flown a countless number of times, ashamedly usually paying little to no heed to the safety announcements so exuberantly demonstrated by the flight attendants. They went through the usual script about seatbelts, emergency exits, no smoking, cabin pressure, etc. when a phrase about the cabin pressure caught my attention, “Secure your own mask first, and then assist the other person.” I had heard this phrase a hundred times, but for whatever reason (I suspect it was because I was exhausted), this time it struck a chord.
 
“What? Secure my own mask first and then help someone else?  That seems so selfish! That person might die! They need me!”
 
These thoughts came to my mind as I pondered what the lively flight attendant had said.  But then, it dawned on me, “I am no earthly good to help anyone if I’m the one without oxygen, if I’m the one in distress.”
 
Research shows that educators have the highest stress and burnout levels compared to workers in other human services and other jobs (Mojsa-Kaja, Golonoka, and Marek, 2015).  The demands of our careers are endless.  Educators fill several roles during a day, teaching knowledge, managing a classroom, keeping records, supervising, communicating with parents, and the list goes on and on. Within this list, are we purposefully making the time and decision to secure our own masks? I dare say a number of us are not.
 
In an article entitled “Caring without Tiring,” author Joanna Krop identifies five ways in which educators can start taking care of themselves. The first strategy is realizing that you are not an island.  Teachers have a very important role to play in the social, emotional, spiritual and academic life of a child, but teachers cannot do it alone.  They need to realize that they are part of a team that makes up the child’s life.  Teachers have a tendency to become overzealous in their desire to have an impact in their students’ lives and, yes, educators have a job to do and they need to do it to the best of their ability, but with the realization that they cannot do it single-handedly.
 
Second, Krop states that teachers need to understand that they are not the parent. It is both critical and crucial that a classroom is deemed as having a culture of care, however, to blur the distinction between the teacher and the parent weakens the roles of both. Being a caring teacher is essential, but it takes more than that to navigate the complex structure of teaching.  It is good practice for a teacher to reflect on how they express care and whether this is hindering or enhancing their role as an effective teacher.
 
Thirdly, teachers need to find their boundaries.  Teaching is a demanding profession and there are times that teachers will need to sacrifice their personal needs to meet those demands.  Giving the gift of time, compassion and sacrifice is certainly part of the profession. However, when personal needs are sacrificed, teachers need to purposefully replenish their energy so that they can continue to give the gift of themselves.
 
The fourth strategy is to get help when you need it.  Sometimes teachers can navigate their own way out of feeling fatigued, but sometimes help is needed from an external source.  
 
The fifth and final suggestion is to tend your inner space. Creating an inner sense of peace and fulfillment is central to staying mentally healthy.  There is not necessarily a recipe to follow in creating this peace, but Krop suggests activities such as spending time in nature, crafting, socializing, self-time, etc.  A teacher needs to identify and practice what it is in their personal life that will bring them joy, peace and a sense of personal nurture.  
 
As Seventh-day Adventist Christian educators, we also have The Bible as a guidebook for “oxygen.”  Luke 5:16 states, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”  “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him,” Psalm 62:5. And, “Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest…” Exodus 23:12.  
 
The words of the flight attendant that day changed my perspective. It’s not easy.  As educators, we are used to taking care of others first and often our own needs are secondary.  I encourage and challenge you, the next time you are on a flight and hear those words, ask yourself, “Is MY mask secure?”
 
References
 
Krop, Joanna. (2013). Caring without tiring - EBSCOhost Connection. Retrieved July 20, 2016,
         from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/86952506/caring-without-tiring.
 
Mojsa-Kaja, J., Golonka, K., & Marek, T. (2015). Job burnout and engagement among
         teachers - Worklife areas and personality traits as predictors of relationships with
         work. International Journal Of Occupational Medicine & Environmental Health,
         28(1), 102-119. doi:10.13075/ijomeh.1896.00238.