How Can You Keep Your Energy Up All Day? Ask a Teacher!
Classroom Teachers Reveal Their Top 4 Strategies for Staying Energized
By Jon Kunkler, Birchtree Copywriting
It takes energy to teach! Trust me. I taught middle school English and Social Studies for 16 years. Every day, each year, a repeating procession of 11 to 14 year olds would walk, run, skip, saunter and shove their way into the classroom chattering, chirping, cajoling, and expecting me to capture their interest. No matter your energy level, any time there are teenagers occupying a middle school classroom there is a lot of energy in the room. If we could capture the teenage propensity for energy of voice and body and convert it to electricity, it would certainly power the school building, if not the surrounding neighborhood. Instead, it is the art of the teacher to harness that energy and direct it toward learning. According to Newton's sixth grade law, the conservation of youthful energy, that requires the teacher to put forth an equal or greater amount of energy.
If we could capture the teenage propensity for energy of voice and body and convert it to electricity, it would certainly power the school building, if not the surrounding neighborhood.
In fact, teaching takes so much energy that when I look back on those years, it seems almost unbelievable. Someone far more energetic than me must have done all that. No way did I make a habit of going all out from 5:30 to 5:00 each day, wrangle 4 to 6 classes of teenagers into putting forth effort and sometimes even liking it, ask and answer 642 questions, repeat the directions 5 times, walk 7 miles, and for the love of God, James, why are you swimming across the floor?
The bottom line is that when it comes to keeping your energy going all day, no matter what, we teachers know a thing or two. For us, it's a survival skill. Teachers around the world show up and keep up each day with a smile and an energy level that says- I care about you and your learning! And isn't grammar wonderful?!?
So, how can we harness the secret powers of teacher energy? Well, class, I'm here to help. I've linked my own experience to surveys of other veteran teachers, and I've weighed it against the research in order to bring you a few simple, proven tips to conquer your day like a teacher.
1. Eat a breakfast high in protein and fiber while limiting sugar.
Okay people, first of all, eat breakfast! The research is clear on this, and I have never met a teacher that would intentionally go without breakfast. Secondly, Teachers soon discover that the stretch from first class to the point at which even a snack is possible is too long and too demanding to be conquered by the carbohydrate. Sweets and carbs like pastries, doughnuts, bagels, cereal, fruit, and juice are not up to the challenge. You need that protein to help maintain a steady release of energy through the morning assault.
A recent study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating a high-protein breakfast keeps you feeling fuller longer than a high-carb one. The key is that the protein buffers the release of blood sugar, helping you maintain energy throughout the morning, rather than the dreaded spike and crash that coffee and carbs alone can bring on.
Research also shows that fiber has a similar effect, joining in with protein to maintain that morning energy. Bonus: a high fiber diet can reduce your risk of heart attack by 40% and stroke by 7%! But before you reach for that bran muffin, know that the best sources of fiber are vegetables, nuts and seeds. Berries, almonds, sunflower seeds, chia and flax seeds are all breakfast-friendly sources of fiber. (I mean, who wants cauliflower or peas with breakfast!)
A high fiber diet can reduce your risk of heart attack by 40% and stroke by 7%! But before you reach for that bran muffin, know that the best sources of fiber are vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Teachers know that getting good protein and fiber into breakfast can be tough on a tight morning schedule. I always felt like any time I spent preparing breakfast was taken away from time preparing the lesson, so quick and easy is key. Here are some breakfast tips from teachers:
Eggs and fruit- if you want to cut down on prep time, instead of cooking, hard-boil a bunch of eggs ahead of the week. I like to break my hard-boiled eggs open and try different seasoning mixes to add flavor, or crumble them into salad greens and add bacon bits (real ones-purchased or pre-prepped) and dressing. It may sound like a strange "breakfast salad", but it packs a fullness and energy punch! And don't forget the fruit with breakfast. For example, Bananas are no prep and full of good things. "Bananas provide a variety of vitamins and minerals: Vitamin B6 - .5 mg. Manganese - .3 mg. Vitamin C - 9 mg. Potassium - 450 mg. Dietary Fiber - 3g. Protein - 1 g. Magnesium - 34 mg. and Folate - 25.0 mcg." The potassium and magnesium are great for heart health as well. For one, Potassium can lower blood pressure which is certainly a good thing for middle school teachers. For variety and good nutrition, mix your fruit selections up throughout the week!
A high-protein smoothie and a bar with good fats, fiber, protein and no processed sugar- When you really need to get out the door, a smoothie and a bar is a great option. Try a smoothie with high-quality protein added, like egg or plant/seed based, then add whatever sort of fruits and vegetables you want. Other great options include nut powders, coconut milk, or collagen powders (which add protein and support joint health). While blending whole fruits does not remove the fiber, it is hard to get enough of a serving into a smoothie to keep you feeling full and buffer that blood sugar. Many teachers, myself included, have tried only a smoothie and found that hunger and fatigue start to creep in too soon, so it is important to include a bar to add whole fruits, nuts and seeds to the mix. Paleo Eats Bars are a great choice! They achieve that perfect mix of protein and fiber with organic sunflower, flax seeds, raisins and dates- excellent sources of fiber, protein, omega-3 (flaxseeds), and other important nutrients like selenium and B vitamins to help you turn those nutrients into energy. In one Paleo Eats bar, you can get 6-7 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein, and the only sweetener is organic local honey!
The perfect mix of protein and fiber with organic sunflower, flax seeds, raisins and dates- excellent sources of fiber, protein, omega-3 (flaxseeds), and other important nutrients like selenium and B vitamins to help you turn those nutrients into energy.
2. Water and snacks!
Walk in a teacher's classroom and you will undoubtedly see a water bottle somewhere handy. In my case, you would also find at least 3 coffee travel mugs hanging out in various locations, as I was always forgetting to take them home again. Let me tell you from experience, it is no fun to be in the middle of a lesson and accidentally take a slug of week old coffee! Anyway, the point here is that almost every teacher surveyed noted that drinking plenty of water throughout the day helped them maintain energy. And there is plenty of research out there showing that hydration has a major effect on energy levels and brain function. One study found that fluid loss of just 1.59% affected working memory and increased feelings of anxiety and fatigue. Overall, mild dehydration, or fluid loss of 1-3%, can impair not just your energy levels but also your mood, memory and brain performance. Make friends with a large, sturdy water bottle, and you will feel the difference!
Pro tip: I learned a good rule of thumb from a nutritionist recently: divide your body weight in half and try to consume that many ounces of water a day. Another trick she taught me was to add a pinch of good quality sea salt to my water bottle to sneak in electrolytes and some extra minerals.
The other tip here is to snack! It is hard for teachers to find time to snack, because we are moving around and talking a lot, yet most teachers make sure to squeeze in snacks because we know how important it is. Every once in a while, I would dip into some candy left over from some activity or another, and I always regretted it when I was crashing later in the day.
Just like breakfast, low and natural sugar snacks that add protein and fiber are best. Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition, recommends bars that have five grams of protein or more. A lot of teachers snack on nuts, trail mix or a bar that has protein, fiber and a reasonable amount of carbs, like 15-30 grams. Which makes Paleo Eats bars not only a breakfast option, but a filling and energizing snack with 6-7 grams of protein and 24 grams of good carbs, as well as Himalayan pink sea salt, an awesome source of those electrolytes I mentioned earlier.
You know, it seems there is an irrational fear of carbohydrates going around these days, and people tend to forget that carbs are one of your body's primary sources of fuel, and your brain's only source of fuel (unless you are literally starving). Just remember that the more processed the carb, the more likely it is to cause a spike and crash rather than a regular release of energy.
3. Exercise and socialize!
This may not be much of a secret, but it is a good reminder that exercise tends to increase energy in the long run, rather than drain it. So yes, you do have time to exercise, because the energy and focus boost it brings makes you more efficient the rest of the day or week. Most teachers have some sort of exercise outlet that works for them. I exercised in the evenings because, seriously, who in their right mind is going to get up earlier than 5:30 to exercise? It doesn't have to be CrossFit until you vomit or a 10-mile run. After the last bell at my school you could usually spot a group of teachers briskly walking the track together, re-enacting the travails of the day (two birds-one stone). Getting your body moving and muscles burning is a great afternoon pick me up. Find something you enjoy and then see if you can cajole others into joining you. The social interaction can boost your energy and help you stay accountable and motivated. Any day that I could get away for a quick mountain bike ride, hike, walk, hoops, or a session with a couple of dumbbells (not referring to my friends here), I always felt energized afterward. I won't get into the research on the connection between exercise and increased energy levels; we all know there is a mountain of it.
After the last bell at my school you could usually spot a group of teachers briskly walking the track together, re-enacting the travails of the day (two birds-one stone).
The other part of this equation is socializing. Maybe it's because we spend most of our day as the only adult in the room, teachers tend to plan and seek out opportunities to socialize with other consenting adults (that reminds me of another great exercise option ; ). Plan social events regularly! Looking forward to something fun on the calendar can get you through the toughest of days. Psychology Today reviewed the research and summarized four proven benefits of having an active social life: better physical health, including a stronger immune system; better mental health, including an increase in feelings of well-being; better brain function, including memory and cognitive skill, and better life expectancy! Even after accounting for other health factors-people with strong social networks live longer.
In addition to planned events, find one or two times in a day to have a chat with friends, loved ones or co-workers. A tip here: it is especially energizing to connect with coworkers that have different job descriptions than you. It cuts down the griping and venting (which tends to be draining rather than energizing), and increases the chances that your chat might unlock a surprising connection or creative idea.
4. Get inspired!
Speaking of creative ideas, this maxim was proven true time and time again in my career as a teacher: in the teaching profession, like most, there are all sorts of opportunities to build your skills and knowledge, and the good ones always leave you energized. I'm talking about conferences, speakers, groups, books, videos, mentors, and here's one that people outside of teaching don't always think of- observing others in action. Almost every time I went into another teacher's classroom just to observe, I learned several new things I wanted to try right away, and I left energized. Find people who do what you do, and spend some time with them! In general, look for ways to expose yourself to new ideas and to connect with people, either experts or people in the same place as you, that are energized about the work they do, and you will find that it is very easy for that energy to rub off on you. Try it: next time you are feeling drained, instead of a cup of coffee, reach for a good TED talk!
I have also learned that the key to converting learning opportunities from short bursts of energy into lasting drive is to take action right away. If you see, hear, or read about something that inspires an idea-try it as soon as possible. Inspiration transformed into action can fire your engines for weeks, months or even years. As James Russell Lowell once said, "Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found." Ask yourself: what opportunities for inspiration can I find?
In the final analysis...
Those in the teaching profession that have gone from survive to thrive have come to understand a core truth about what gives you energy. Real energy, that feeling of being driven from within and ready to take on any challenge, comes from multiple layers of sources, not one quick fix. What we eat in a day is extremely important, but it will only take us so far if we are fatigued and foggy from dehydration. A sedentary lifestyle will leave us with less energy through the week, no matter what we consume, just as too much time spent in social isolation can leave us feeling anxious and depressed. Most importantly, without sources of inspiration and passion in our lives, everything else will ring hollow.
Most importantly, without sources of inspiration and passion in our lives, everything else will ring hollow.
You could always take the path of many teachers, including me, and start your career with plenty of inspiration and passion, and then add the other layers not because you intended to, but because, oh God, how am I going to do this?? But seriously, continually connect with people and things that inspire you, and the other habits will follow, not because you read an article, but because you have a powerful reason to be at your best.