Confessions of a Teacher

Toxins in the Break Room: How Teacher Appreciation Sabotages Teacher Health

Walking past the teacher break room, I peer in and see platters of sweet treats, both homemade and store-bought intended to show love and appreciation for hard-working teachers. It is lovely, really. Administrators and parents took the time and effort to bring these treats into school to celebrate our hard work and welcome us back to school…and wish us a Merry Christmas…and Valentine’s Day…and Flag Day…and spirit week…and Tuesday. The treats come from the heart, but their ever presence in the lounge has changed them from a rarely experienced token of appreciation to a harmful daily toxin.
It is pretty common for people to demonstrate appreciation or love through food. Our society was raised thinking that if we were good, we could get an ice cream cone after dinner. This mindset has transferred over to the minds of many professionals. As teachers, sweet treats mean we have been good, and we convince ourselves that we deserve them due to the hard work and long hours that we put into the classroom.
In truth, this mindset could potentially be sabotaging our abilities as educators. While sugar used to be an occasional treat, now the average American consumes 130 pounds of added sugar per year. This exorbitant amount of sweets is leading to a plethora of health problems that affect our physical and mental being. One of the most visually apparent effects of overconsumption of sugar is weight gain. Excess weight is not a singular symptom, however. It is actually the result of many other health issues that arise due to the overconsumption of sugar. The brain gets the message that it is full from the leptin hormone, which is thrown off by a high-fructose diet. As a result, consumers will eat much more than their body needs and still feel unsatisfied, leading to weight gain.
The physical side effects of overconsumption of sugar are definitely alarming, but the toll that sugars can take on our mental well-being can actually negatively affect our job performance. Teaching is exhausting, so it is definitely tempting to grab a piece of chocolate and get the brief sugar rush to push you through until recess. Unfortunately, after that brief influx of energy comes a crash. This constant dip and spike in energy lead to sugar addiction, which can negatively affect feel-good dopamine levels. This is why those who consume more sugar and junk food are more prone to depression compared to others who eat a healthier diet.
Of course, none of this harm is intended when parents bring in chocolates to thank us for our hard work. Enjoying these treats on occasion is perfectly fine. Expecting yourself to abstain entirely can lead to frustration and set you up for failure. There are some basic steps you can take, however, to minimize the temptation around you.
Help set yourself up for success early on by telling parents that, while their treats are appreciated, you would prefer if they would show their appreciation through donating books or other classroom supplies. Who couldn’t use more of those?
Never come to school hungry. Starting your day off with a protein-rich breakfast is a good way to make the chocolate muffins in the break room a bit less tempting.
Get support from others by explaining your goals. If you find a teammate to join your efforts, it makes avoiding daily temptations much easier.
There is nothing better than knowing that our students and parents appreciate the hard work that we do each day. To be the best teachers we can be, however, we need to keep our bodies and minds healthy.
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