Pick Your Health—The Stakes Are Incredibly High

This post is a personal reflection and a challenge on the topic of my teacher mantra video #3, which you can watch here or at the bottom of this page.

During the last two weeks, I have had two physical and mental crashes—times when, due to poor self-care the previous several days, I spent an entire day in a zombie-like state, wavering between delirium and despair. Fortunately, both times, I recovered after a day or two.

How did I end up in that state? I did not Pick My Health.

How did I recover? I picked my health.

This cycle has been a theme for me. But I used to crash harder and recover slower, with dire effects not only on myself, but also on my students. Read on to see what was and is at stake.


The Stakes Are Incredibly High

My first full-time teaching job was at a school whose motto was Thinking and Living Well. This is a top-notch motto, and I constantly tried to impress its value on students, especially by emphasizing how their education would help them think and live better.

The thing is, I myself wasn’t living well. I slept only a few hours a night, I let my performance at school determine far too much of my identity (I hadn't yet landed on Mantra 7, It's Just Teaching, or Mantra 19, You Are Not Those Things), I ate haphazardly, I didn’t devote attention to my family even when we were together in the evenings, and I worked so hard all week that I had to spend much of the weekend sleeping instead of enjoying time with my family. I did not Pick My Health. I rarely even allowed myself to see that I had that choice.

Adrenaline and skillful acting allowed me to bounce off the walls in class, but students grew to tell that I was busy and tired, especially the older ones. At the same time, my students themselves were busy and exhausted. I got troubling insight into their harriedness as the varsity soccer coach and SAT instructor to many of my regular students. I wanted to get through their heads that they didn’t need to drive themselves so hard, that other things were more important, that they could spend some time simply being. But I had to admit that I had no ground to stand on: I was not living as though I believed what I was telling them.


My unhealthy living was . . .

1. teaching students that they needed to be “on” all the time,

2. giving students really good reasons not to want to be like me, and

3. giving students reasons to dread adulthood.


If “this will help you as an adult” meant “this will help you live like I do,” it was far from motivational. It is difficult to teach someone who doesn’t want to be like you or have a life like yours.

I don’t want students who see how I live, who get a sense of my energy, health, and attitude, to have a reason to dread adulthood.

I want to model healthy living for students. I want students to see me enjoy my work, participate in community life, and have time for other pursuits. I want them to think, “That is a life worth having.” I’m guessing you want these things, too.

So, what are some areas and ways in which you can Pick Your Health—both in order to model that decision for students and so that you can have greater joy and longevity?

Some of my own suggestions about this, along with ones for students and for school leaders, are featured in a book of which people who support my work on Ko-fi get a preview edition!

A recurring contribution unlocks even more content and goes a long way during this season when several months of my regular work have been canceled.

Front and back cover of Justin Slocum Bailey's book Teach Like a Human

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See also: Preparing a Lesson vs Preparing Yourself

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