Pilot Episode

Self-care Starter Pack

21 September 2021

We chat to Educator and Psych PhD Candidate, Christina Costa about all things teacher wellness; including staying focused on the positive, avoiding burnout, and advice for anyone struggling.

Tags: WELLBEING  |  PSYCHOLOGY  |  TIPS & TRICKS

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Christina

My number one advice to new teachers is like one thing. Focus on one thing, one change, I feel like we’re always trying to. There are all these new things that like now we know this, do this, do this, do this. You can do this online and teach two ways. It’s like, pick one thing that you’re going to work on today. And how did it go?

Chelsea

Today we’re talking with Christina Costa. In this episode of Teacher Teacher.

Marcus

Hey, friends, and welcome to Teacher Teacher, a podcast for teachers by teachers. I’m Marcus Stein. And I used to teach.

Chelsea

And I’m Chelsea Metreyeon and I also used to teach. Every episode will be bringing new insights and info from educators and experts all around the world.

Marcus

Helping you unwind, unpack or simply understand what’s going on out there.

Chelsea

Well, I don’t know about you, Marcus, but I’m excited.

Marcus

Yeah, I’m excited, too. Let’s do it.

Marcus

I’m excited about this. It’s not something we talk about enough taking care of ourselves as teachers. Personally, I think it’s just like in the nature of a teacher to care more about the kids and other people than we care about ourselves. And for me, every year had its own sense of struggle. But I know that one thing I did to keep myself sane was my coffee dance. So whether I had coffee or not, I would pretend to hold a cup and do a five minute dance routine before I taught anything. I still do it like I’m dancing before I get on this podcast. So, Chelse. Is there anything you do intentionally to take care of yourself as a teacher?

Chelsea

There is. But first, I need to know, is there a song of choice for your coffee dance or is it different every day?

Marcus

Absolutely. It’s been the same one for a while. It’s We Found Love Rihanna, something about that beat with, you know, [Hums music] it’s so upbeat. I’m like, yes, yes, yes.

Chelsea

Love it. Love it. I’m going to have to listen to that after this. But yes, my mental health thing that I started doing actually when I was teaching is yoga every single day. So with no exception, whether I am camping, whether I fall asleep on the couch at six p.m. and I wake up and I think, oh, shoot, I need to do my yoga. I make it a must do for my personal mental health, physical health, emotional health, all of the above. So I started that with teaching, and I still do it to this day.

Marcus

I definitely need to take that advice because teacher well-being is so important, which is why we’re highlighting it here today.

Marcus

Before we jump in, I just want to shout out to Kami for producing this podcast, just like you. Kami wants to empower students to love learning in or out of the classroom. Kami can level up the way you teach. Give feedback and assess. Head to kamiapp.com to find out more. All right. Now let’s start the show.

Chelsea

And we are super excited for our first ever podcast guest, Christina Costa. She is an absolute triple threat. She’s a teacher, an academic, and a researcher all in one. She currently teaches psychology to undergrad and high school students and studies well-being and resilience. Today, we’ll be chatting about how the teaching community is feeling currently in this school year and what they can do to look out after their mental health. It’s so wonderful to have you with us today. Christina, welcome.

Christina

Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here. I love the energy already. I love your houseplants, Chelsea.

Chelsea

Thank you.

Christina

I love your temporary setup, Marcus. Yeah, my name is Christina. I grew up moving around, but I ended back up at the University of Michigan and I studied neuroscience. And my last year of college, I had a professor that said, I think you should try teaching. I see a teacher in you. And so I went into teaching. I taught sixth and seventh grade middle school science for a couple of years in Detroit, Michigan, close by. And I absolutely loved it. I had the same professor talk to me about I was talking my experiences about being a teacher, and she was doing work in the realm of positive psychology and occupational psychology and said, I think there’s room for this, for what you’re experiencing. To study here. So I ended up going back to the University of Michigan to get my Ph.D. in psychology. I started teaching undergrad classes and fell in love with that because it was all the best parts about teaching. And none the worst parts. So I am currently a Ph.D. student. I teach undergrad intro psych and I study teacher resilience and teacher well-being.

Chelsea

Yeah, Marcus’s face is just saying everything in my head. I was just like, wow.

Marcus

And in my head, I’m like, what? What a great sort of like colorful teacher journey. It kind of speaks to the calling of teachers. You know, like for me, I didn’t originally go in to be a teacher. You know, it was a calling. Somebody suggested it. I had a professor very similarly to you, Christina… be like, you know, you should be a teacher. You know, you just have the personality is what they told me. They were like, you just you have it, young man. So so with that, you know, this whole idea of like a calling and some of us are just sort of really meant to do this work. What is, in your opinion… What is the vibe or energy of teachers this year?

Christina

I so last year I started my dissertation research, right, pre-pandemic, I sent out a survey, one of my dissertation … is a survey and I am so glad I sent it out before because I’m looking at all positive factors. I’m interested in why teachers stay. There’s a lot of research about teacher burnout, teacher burnout, teacher burnout. That’s a big word. And so the positive psych focus in that is, OK, we are understanding why teachers are leaving. But why are teachers staying? Those teachers who are staying, what are the factors that allow them to stay? So I’m interested in all of that. And I’m glad I squeezed all that out before this mess because teachers are struggling. It’s you know, last year was hard. And this year I’m hearing from my friends and colleagues in the classroom. They didn’t think it could get harder and it’s getting harder. We kind of thought this year was going to be back to what we were expecting. And it seems like there’s more teachers who are doing hybrid. They’re doing both. I think the vibe is very much the survival mode and looking for inspiration and help.

Chelsea

And that’s why we’re here with this podcast and with Kami and with you here today, definitely to provide some of those hope points for those teachers. And you said this year is kind of survival mode and struggle. How do you think that’s impacting teachers mental health currently?

Christina

Oh, I think it plays a huge toll. I mean, we already know statistics of teachers experiencing more anxiety and more job-related anxiety. I think that only increases that we have all of these factors. Plus, we have life on top of all this. Right. There’s one thing to be teaching a hybrid kindergarten class with masked kids in a pandemic, and then there’s doing that in the world we live in. It’s a lot! So it’s like there’s all these factors impacting our mental health. I think this only exacerbates the issue.

Chelsea

One hundred percent.

Marcus

Yeah. Yeah. Something you like said that made a light bulb go off in my head is that you’re focusing on what makes people stay. You know what? Of all this negativity of audacity to burn out of all this survivor mode, you know, that teachers are going through. They are staying, you know, it is a popular field of work and there are people who are going to work and not surviving but thriving. So even in this crazy time, Christina, are there some positive things that teachers are focusing on? I’m a little removed from the classroom, so you have to help me. But what are some positive things people are focusing on that is … that are helping them stay?

Christina

I think especially at the college level as well. There are a lot of seminars and a lot of discussions around what did we learn from this past year, what made us better teachers having to go through all of this struggle? What made us better? How much like what new technologies do we now know? Because we had we were forced to figure it out. What people really showed up for teachers? What were administrators doing? Something I’m always interested in is what administrators are doing for teachers because that seems to be something teachers really talk about. It’s either great or horrible. And so I would love to talk to teachers and hear about like, what were the things your admin did for you this past year that helped you become a better teacher remotely? And what were those like, those new skills that you learned? But I think there’s a lot of learning new things and switching modalities and even about like the way students learn, like, OK, we now know students can learn this way. Should we now take that moving forward? Should we keep doing that? Right. I have a professor who moved from exams to weekly quizzes because of the online format. And she said, we know I mean, we’re psychologists. We know that learning is best when you are tested on it frequently. Not these like big chunks. So should I keep that moving forward even when we come back to the lecture hall? Right. So I think there are these some of these positive changes.

Marcus

I like that. Sometimes I forget to focus on that. Like, thank you for that reminder, Christina. You know, throughout all of this chaos and all of this unknown. We’re learning and growing. We’re stretching, you know, as teachers, we’re evolving. We’re developing. And that is a positive thing. That is a positive thing to get better at your craft and to be more prepared. I guess I never looked at that as a positive. Like I’m always looking for like, oh, we got candy, we got lollipops, we got a pay raise, we got mo’ money. But it is a positive thing that we’ve gotten better. We’ve gotten better at what we do. We’re tired You know, teachers is tired, but it is a positive thing that they’ve gotten better. Thank you for that reminder.

Chelsea

The fact that you said. Teachers have to go home and still live their actual life as human beings when you said that. What did we learn from the past year? I kind of got chills because as a human, I learned a lot. Life is short. Value like going out to dinner value doing little things in life. So you saying that like literally I got chills because that is something that we all learned in the last year, that there’s things that are bigger than or little that we do in our life that we should take advantage of and do the gratitude piece that you’re all about as well. So that’s a great point. And then also, what advice would you give for those teachers that maybe they’re staying, but they’re struggling, they’re anxious. They’re stressed out at the moment. Living their daily life is hard. What advice would you give to them?

Christina

Yeah, I think I mean, that’s hard. There are a lot of them, right. I think my number one advice to new teachers, teachers in general, but especially new teachers is like one thing. Focus on one thing, one change. I feel like we’re always trying to. There are all these new things that like now we know this, do this, do this, do this. You can do this online and teach two ways. So pick one thing that you’re going to work on today. And how did it go? How did that one thing go? Because when you focus on that one thing, it’s measurable it’s actionable. It’s like, OK, I can at the end of the day say, how did that go? How can I do better on that? I do this all the time with my college students, too. I’m like, oh, there’s all these new pedagogies and I need to re-change my whole class. It’s like, no, Christina, change one thing this semester. See how it goes and then change the next thing the next semester. I think that that’s really helpful. And also in times of crisis, just focusing on something that’s going well. At the end of the day, we can be driving home or maybe not maybe sitting home thinking of all of the things that lesson flopped and oh, my gosh, I did this, I did this, I did this. Like, what’s the one thing that went well that you can close your day and stay on that note to survive for the next day?

Marcus

I’m sorry. I just got a little teared up for a second because you saying focus on one thing. Kind of brought this avalanche of all the things I’m thinking about. And I’m like, she’s so right. Just like relax and breathe and like one thing at a time. Easier said than done. Easier said than done. So in that vein of like focusing on one thing, staying, you know, just controlling what you can. Are there things that the people around us can help us with, like, you know, a teacher, it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to keep a teacher sane. So what are some things that the people around the teacher can do to help the teacher’s wellbeing?

Christina

This comes up without a doubt. Every interview I talk with the teacher, social support is always one of the biggest factors in teacher resilience, whether that’s colleagues support, friend and family support, community support. All of those things like connection with people is almost always one of the biggest factors beyond optimism, individual, beyond what supplies they’re getting at schools. Like are your colleagues supportive? Do you have people that you can talk to about school and people you don’t have to talk to about school? One of my best friends, my first year teaching, which was rough, I’m not sure anyone can have a first-year teaching that’s not rough. I just told her I’m really big about telling people what you need because they can’t guess. So I told her I need someone to talk to once a week where we don’t talk about my classroom at all. Like I don’t even want to mention one aspect of my job. Can we talk about something else? And so having that one friend date of like that’s that was the support I need from this person. Right. I need someone to talk to about human things, because so often as teachers, I think more than a lot of professions. It becomes who we are. It’s not just this is my job, this is also who I am. And that can be difficult sometimes that can play a big toll on our mental health if our teacher life isn’t going well. Right. We need to sometimes be able to separate those things. And so having people I think that can support that is really helpful. But you have to let them know because people don’t know how to help you unless you advocate for yourself

Chelsea

100 percent.

Marcus

You gave me this total thought. I want to play like a mini game with you all. You said that the first year is rough. And I think everybody agreed. Like everybody agreed. The first year is rough. I know. For me, mine was not cute at all. So what I’d like to hear from everybody here is what makes the first year rough.

Christina

OK, I’m going to answer that with an anecdote.

Marcus

  1. Storytime.

Christina

I walk into an all boys classroom. Sixth grade. First of all, whose idea? I sit down in my chair. My pants rip from front seam to back seam I’m talking a full… my pants rip. I then think I can’t stand up. How am I going to teach this lesson? So I say I call my co-teacher. What do I do? My pants ripped. I can’t stand up. I’m in with the old boys class. She says, improvise. Tell them you’re playing a game. Tell them if you get out of your seat, they lose points for something. I say. Sure. And we just roll with it. And I like immediately the lesson goes awful. Awful. Not a thing is learned. I’m in my seat the whole time, wheeling around on my rolling chair. Everyone’s distracted. Everyone thinks it’s funny. Just not one thing is learned. But it was funny, like it’s something that I could laugh on, and that is like an anecdote for my whole first year. Not a thing was learned. I hope something was learned.

Chelsea

And going off of Christina’s story when you said that, Marcus, I thought of one particular day. And basically, your first year is rough because they cannot teach you everything in school when you’re going through your teacher courses, when you’re doing your student teaching. The second that classroom becomes your sole responsibility, it’s first of all, terrifying. I was 23 when I started and I said, who the heck gave me permission to take care of all of these kids? But one day in particular, I was doing small groups and I had a little girl that was throwing up in the trash can while simultaneously a little boy had a nosebleed while the other boy was profusely crying because he missed his mom. But he was rubbing the back of the boy with the nosebleed, making him feel better. So I just in that moment felt like one. My classroom was exploding and I was like, what is going on? No one teaches you how to handle all three of these situations while teaching the rest of them. So, yeah, that’s why your first years hard. You have no idea what could happen when you walk through that door every single day.

Marcus

That’s crazy. My story is very similar. It’s about not being able to predict what you are about to experience. Yeah, it was the worst it was, the worst. So I taught eighth grade and I was a mid semester hire. So like I graduated college in December. I started teaching these kids in January. I’m their brand new teacher. They already have somebody for six months. Y’all. I’m not more than a month into this. And I mean, if you don’t know me, you know, I have very colorful, fashionable, you know, I’m coming with the high fashion teacher outfits. So definitely wearing my rainbow on my sleeve. And I’m in the middle of teaching one day and one kid just interrupts me, stands up. And he was like ‘ey! You gay? So like, first of all, they’re kids and so like I’m not mad because they’re kids, they supposed to do disruptive stuff. I just was frozen. There was no book or no guide to prepare for a kid interrupting the middle of your lesson and asking about your sexuality. It was the weirdest. I was like, wait, what in my brain? Flipping through the books that we studied in college, just like, OK, they say issue and desist, use proximity, flick the lights off and on, one, two, three class like I was in my head, it was frantic. And so after like maybe about a minute pause, I looked at the kid and I said, listen. I am grown. I have grown friends, and I share that type of information with my grown friends, not children like you, I have grown friends. But it’s the unpredictability. It’s the oh, my gosh, if that happened? What else is about to happen this year? Like, that’s what got me. And what made my first year rough is it was just a series of things that I was like, oh, my gosh, I never thought this would happen. Like, are you serious? And then I had middle school, so. It just got worse from there. It got worse from there. So be ready First-Year teachers, we’re all going to define the term rough a little differently. But I think Christina gives you just some great advice on taking it one thing at a time, focusing on the things that, well, I look good. I look good. That’s the thing that we’re well, every day ya’ll be like. You know what? My outfit was cute,

Christina

And I bet someone appreciated that. Like my teacher dresses cool. Probably.

Marcus

Yeah. Yeah. Look at my teacher wearing those Steve Madden shoes. This is back when like boot cut pants were in. Oh, you know, I had my boot cut pants. So that’s crazy that all of this is very familiar. Would you recommend, for teachers sanity, to avoid anything? Like, hey, I think you should stay away from blank or beware of blank, it’ll throw your brain off. Anything we teachers should avoid?

Christina

In terms of mental health? Or petagogy?

Marcus

Yeah, in terms of protecting your mental health. Like keeping yourself sane, keeping your well-being calm.

Christina

Yeah. Avoid the teachers lounge. And when I say that, I don’t mean like the physical space. I mean like the room that you walk in school where you know that everyone is talking about this student and this student and this student. And I can’t stand this and I can’t stand this like that teacher’s lounge. My pet peeve was always the grades below me talking bad about students like you’re going to get this kid and he does this and this. And this is like there’s no use in, unless it’s something helpful, you know, prejudging behaviors or whatever it may be. So that’s my avoid the teachers lounge, the negative spaces.

Marcus

The way you just described that. It’s like you actually experienced it, my friend. The accuracy.

Chelsea

Well, I was going to say I only went to the teacher’s lounge for the food. So if ever I heard there was food in there, I went and got snacks and exited real quick.

Marcus

But I hope y’all are sort of listening. I know I’m very keenly aware of what was just mentioned, is that other people’s energy affects your own, other people’s comments, other people’s, you know, feedback. And if it is negative, it is going to send some negative electrons in your direction. Look at me being science-y. But, you know, it is a thing, you know, so if you know those types of conversations are happening, avoid them. Chelsea, would you any anything you would avoid to keep your sanity at school?

Chelsea

Well, I was thinking more so along the lines of setting boundaries. I was really I’m still really bad at it, at kind of disconnecting from work at a certain time, but more so with teaching, like you leave that building, but you’re still going home and you’re thinking and doing and prepping. So if any… Christina, if you have any boundaries that teachers should be setting or any positive things that they can do to set up those boundaries?

Christina

I think that is such a huge one. And everyone says it. And it’s like, OK, but how do I have all of this work to do? How do I not work at home? Um setting up boundaries is hard. One of the things that I did and I really didn’t learn this till grad school, I was really bad at setting boundaries as a first and second grade teacher. But when I got to grad school, I found out like I have all of this free time. And so people who work with me assume that I’m available to them all the time and I need to change that. And it can be the same for teachers, right? You go home, parents, colleagues, admin might assume that you’re available.

Chelsea

Mm hmm.

Christina

I one of the concrete things I did is I would block times in my Google calendar. So, you know, you can you can check your calendar with people where they don’t see what you’re doing, but they see when time is blocked. And so I had like blocks of time that was: this is me time. I am actually scheduling in my calendar three hours on Monday night. I’m writing this is my writing time. And so I’m not available to answer email, to take your phone call, to walk through a student issue, because that’s my time or I’m going to my sister’s basketball game on Thursday. I’m putting that in my calendar and just norming that even putting it like I have in my email signature, the link to my calendar so that the norm is like… Oh, do you want to meet? Check my calendar first before. So like having those blocking actually out times so that you force yourself to not extend. Also, I feel like teaching there’s there’s never any end. There’s always a project to work on. So a big thing for me is a first year teacher on weekends was I would work on Saturday to get ready for Monday. I stopped doing that and would work just two hours on Sunday because then I only had that time and it didn’t turn into… Ok Saturday, I’m working all day. Oh, but I have other stuff that I’m going to do on Sunday. It was Saturday. I’m not doing anything. Sunday, whatever gets done in those two hours gets done. So strategies like that where you are, you know, concretely managing your time, I feel like it’s helpful.

Chelsea

And I feel like with what we said earlier about technology now being a part of learning, that’s so important for teachers to block that time because with technology, you’re accessible all hours of every day of every moment. So blocking that and sticking to it is super, super important.

Christina

Right.

Marcus

I like that. You’re making it OK to block off appointments with yourself.

Christina

Mm hmm.

Marcus

Like…

Christina

That’s what I call them, the appointments.

Marcus

Make an appointment with yourself. I like that. I also really like the whole Sunday tip. The Sunday tip is a good one because I used to find myself get up on Saturday and being like, girl, let me go to the teacher store and give me a new bullietin board and some new letters and oh, I got this new idea. You know what? I need cardstock. You don’t need any of that, Mr. Stein. Breathe. I think this goes back to your first comment about one thing at a time, you know.

Christina

Yeah.

Marcus

You can’t do it all, so stop trying to. And, you know, that was my problem. I was like, yeah, I’ll be the sponsor of five clubs and a first year teacher. Yeah. What’s wrong with me?

Christina

And it’s not just you, it’s everyone that is like a universal experience of let me do everything, because that’s my job as a teacher. I’m here to help. I’m here to be on all the committees and all the clubs. Like, do not count me in for your committee.

Marcus

Write that down. I would put that on your next round of T-shirts. I will not be on…

Christina

That is a good t-shirt!

Marcus

You heard it here first

Christina

… in your committee.

Marcus

Oh, speaking of your T-shirts, you do have some. And they are very, very, very cute. I ordered one. And one of them has this phrase, celebrate neurodiversity, celebrate neurodiversity. It is all over your social media. Can you tell us what celebrating neurodiversity means?

Christina

Yeah. So neurodivergent people are those that diverge from the and I put normal in quotations the normal neuro type. So this can be a range of different things. I like to think of it as people with really cool brains. So I am neurodivergent in a couple of ways. I have generalized anxiety disorder. I have epilepsy, which is a neurological disorder. And I have brain cancer, which is something that I advocate for and talk about all the time. And so I am neurodivergent times three. Other categories that fit into neuro divergences would be people with traumatic brain injuries, people with learning disabilities, autism. All of these are neuro divergent individuals. And so celebrate neurodiversity is really the idea of these are positive traits of people, let’s celebrate them, and it’s really a call for inclusivity as well. And I think we can we can all learn from different neuro divergences. So like in a classroom setting, we can celebrate each other and learn from each other. And I think it’s really such a beautiful thing that people learn in different ways. And we have different needs to access material. And so learning about that and celebrating that. I think it’s something I’m all about.

Chelsea

I love it, and I also I watched your TED talk before talking to you today about kissing your brain and gratitude. So if you could expand on that, I love the kissing your brain because we all have our own things that go on in our brains, our own stuff. So kissing your brain and reminding yourself that your brain has a control over a lot a lot of things.

Christina

Yeah, I think so. I learned this from a kindergarten teacher. I saw that my TED talk, and she would ask her students to kiss their brain when they did tonight. And I just thought that was the cutest thing. I was like, I have to do that with middle schoolers, which could have gone really badly. But it didn’t. They would they would just do it and you’d be like, OK, I’m kissing my brain. And it really when I was diagnosed with brain cancer, it really became a personal thing because I stopped doing it with my college students. I’m like, they’re adults. I can’t ask them to kiss their brain. That would be weird. And then I’m sitting like in an emergency room thinking of, oh, my God, I think of all the things that I have done. With this grapefruit at the time size tumor in my brain, I’m seeing things and my memory is intact and all of these things and like, wow, the brain, I’m a brain nerd anyway, and I teach psychology. So I’m like a triple brain nerd. But our brains are so amazing. There’s always something to celebrate, whether it’s like a good answer in class or I love that we’re talking more about mental health with students. And so like learning to take care of our brains and give ourselves grace, it’s just such a fun little thing. And I’m glad that it’s like middle school students will do it. I’m experimenting with college students. I’ll let you know how that goes. But I think, you know, even as adults, like, I kiss my brain all the time, I there’s so many things that we should be grateful for, for our brains.

Marcus

I was watching your TED talk and I was like, yeah, the whole time, the whole time, just like loving all of the the things that my brain personally, my neuro divergent brain is capable of. And I appreciate you for that reminder.

Marcus

So many nuggets of information today coming from our new friend, the future doctor, Christina Costa. The big takeaway for me is that I’m not alone. Like that moment when Christina said it’s rough. I’m like, oh, yeah, I know what that is. I know what that is. So big. Thank you personally, Christina, for just kind of like waking my brain up. I appreciate all of that feedback. What about you, Chelse?

Chelsea

My biggest takeaway is definitely to kiss my brain and my body and myself more and focus on those little things that I am accomplishing every single day as both a human, as a worker, as a companion to my family. So thank you for reminding me about all those little things.

Christina

Thank you both so much for having me. Thank you for all the work you’re doing for teachers as well. So nice to talk to you.

Marcus

Thank you so much. Thank you.

Marcus

Friends, it’s time for us to go. Oh, womp, womp. But we’ll be back.

Chelsea

Thanks to our fabulous guest. It’s been awesome chatting with you today.

Marcus

Everybody out there. Listen, we want to hear your thoughts on this episode. You can catch us on the social medias as @kamiapp

Chelsea

and make sure you use #teacherteacher.

Marcus

And if you need the show notes, the transcript or other resources, we got you head over to our website kamiapp.com/podcast for all of the podcast Goodness.

Chelsea

Teacher Teacher was brought to you by Kami, an Interactive Learning Platform with intuitive tools to not only help you reimagine lessons, assignments and feedback, but to help your students love learning.

Marcus

This episode was hosted by my girl, Chelsea, Metreyeon and yours truly. Marcus Stein.

Chelsea

Catch you next time.

Marcus

See ya friends!

 

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