The clock has struck midnight, the new calendar is hung, and you’ve made it halfway through the school year! Time to assess your health, career, and finances, and to think about how you really want your life to look in the New Year, and beyond. We asked teachers and experts about the most popular New Year’s resolutions for teachers, and they offered advice on how to turn these goals into reality.
1 | Eat well
With a little planning, it’s easy. “Look at what you eat for a week and give yourself a grade,” suggests registered dietitian Jessica Crandall. Set some goals for staying healthy or losing weight and keep a food log to stay on track. Bring your own lunch on days when the cafeteria is serving fried or high-fat foods. And use the guidelines on choosemyplate.gov: Half the food on your plate should be fruits and vegetables, one-quarter protein, and one-quarter whole grains.
2 | Relax your mind
“With teaching, it’s so easy to continually think of the next lesson plan,” says Sandy Conner, a former elementary school teacher. “You have to say, ‘No, I’m not going to think about school for the rest of the evening,’ and just let it go.”
Stay late one day a week, if necessary, so you don’t have to bring work home over the weekend. “If you don’t give yourself a break, you can burn out,” adds Conner.
3 | Get moving
Do something you like. If it’s dancing, try Zumba. If you like team sports, consider tennis. Michelle Owens, of Alliance for a Healthier Generation, recommends setting both short- and long-term goals and keeping a journal to track them. Continually challenge yourself—by adding another 10 minutes of cardio or a weight vest to your run or walk.
Donald Lucente, a teacher in Boston, lost 52 pounds a few years ago. He continues to walk whenever he can and always wears a pedometer. Every week, his curricular team has meetings on the move, discussing agenda items as they walk.
4 | Set a budget
Try to get a sense of how much you’re spending. Look at your tax returns to determine your net income (total income minus taxes paid). That’s how much money came in. If you didn’t save it, you spent it. To get an even better handle on your spending, resolve to track your purchases with software such as Quicken or through a free online tool you’ll find on sites like mint.com.
Think about your goals for college savings and retirement and consider if your spending reflects those priorities, says Kevin Meehan, a financial planner with Summit Wealth Advisors. Smarter choices may be as simple as eating out less often or as big as selling a car or downsizing your home. Those who are successful with money can usually save consistently no matter their circumstances or the market fluctuations.
5 | Plan for retirement
“The younger you are, the less you want to depend on pension fund projections, as it’s hard to know how it will be modified over the years,” says Meehan. Educators do have the benefit of being able to forecast their income. But increasingly, teachers need to look for ways to supplement their pensions.
Find out about your district’s savings plans. Often reps come into schools to explain options for saving on a pretax basis, such as with 403(b) or 457 plans for school district employees.
It may make sense, says Meehan, to hire an independent financial planner to look at where your nest egg is right now, where you want it to be down the road, and what you’ll need to do to meet your objectives.
6 | Make a dream come true
Maybe it’s that summer trip or starting a business. Take a mental leap and say yes to something you’ve always wanted. Then do it.
Former teacher Jan Cullinane’s research on where she wanted to retire led her to write a retirement guide. Its success prompted her to follow up with a new book, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement.
Teachers have an abundance of skills—public speaking, time management, creativity—that translate to other ventures, says Cullinane. Look at your strengths, and channel them into your next dream.
7 | Learn something new
What’s one area where you could use professional development? Integrating technology into lessons? Classroom management? Choose one and commit to improving. “There is always a risk to learning something new. You risk not being good,” says Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion. “But the rewards are great. It makes your job more interesting and it puts you in the mind-set of being a student again.”
8 | Go for that degree
“Teachers are also learners,” says Ashley Norris, a dean at the University of Phoenix. “We love to learn—as educators, we focus on lifelong learning.” If you’ve been considering going back to school for an advanced degree, now is the time to start planning. Norris suggests letting your interests guide you. If you love lesson planning, consider a master’s in curriculum and instruction. Or feed your inner administrator with a teacher leadership program.
“Look at the curriculum and read course descriptions,” suggests Norris. “And be sure to consider the clinical requirements.” Learning something new is exciting, but you’ve got to be sure you have time to complete the coursework.
9 | Plot your next move
If you imagine yourself as a department head or an administrator down the line, think about what that will take. Seek out a mentor to quiz about the ins and outs of the position, says Mark Terry, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “You impact 25 kids a day as a teacher, but as a principal you have the opportunity to impact multitudes of kids every day,” he says.
Terry encourages teachers to become team leaders or to work with the student council, and attend a principals’ conference or join an association to keep up on what’s going on in school leadership.
10 | Give back
Set aside time to build a deeper relationship with your students or provide extra tutoring. Offer to mentor a new teacher at your school. You may find that helping out makes you a better teacher and reenergizes you.
Connect with students by seeing them outside of the school setting, says Lemov. Go to their sporting events or musical recitals. It can be an eye-opening experience for you and it will show the students you care. “The greatest gift is attention,” says Lemov, “watching them do something that matters.”
Invite students who need help to eat lunch with you and do a fun mini-review. It’s more efficient than passing on the job to a tutor, advises Lemov.
And if you want to become a mentor, simply ask a new teacher if you can observe and give feedback.