Staying Healthy as a Teacher

7 tips to keep you well when your classroom is full of germs

By Michele Faehnle, RN, BSN

Being around students all day in a confined classroom environment makes teaching one of the most germy jobs.

You might question if it’s possible to stay well! While there is no magic answer to keeping healthy as a teacher, one of the best ways to keep from getting sick is to build a healthy immune system and take some simple precautions. Here are seven tips to help keep you well:

  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet – Eating a balanced diet is one of the best ways to keep healthy. With as much time as teachers put into their jobs, it can be easy to fall back on convenience meals, sugary snacks found in the teacher’s lounge, and caffeinated beverages to keep you going. One simple tip is to prep easy meals the evening before for your next day. Try making overnight oatmeal for a quick and healthy grab-and-go breakfast or keep hard-boiled eggs in the fridge. Stock your desk drawer with high-protein, nut-free snacks (to prevent possible cross-contamination for students with nut allergies) such as granola bars, dried fruit, and tuna pouches. If you need a little sweet treat pick-me-up, try dark chocolate. If you find you are not eating a variety of nutritious food, a multivitamin supplement may help you get the essential nutrients you need.
  • Take time to exercise – Although easier said than done, finding an exercise program that works for you is key to staying well. People who exercise moderately are much less likely to catch cold and flu viruses. Exercise also benefits your overall health, making you less likely to get sick. If you have difficulty sticking to a healthy eating and exercise plan, see if you employer offers a program through your benefit package on healthy living such as Real Appeal, which offers weekly online classes, tracking tools, workout videos, a personal coach, and supplies to help you succeed.
  • Get enough sleep – Teachers tell me they spend many nights staying up late to lesson plan and grading papers, then they are back to school early in the morning before the student arrive. Cutting out sleep may seem like an easy way to get more done, but there is a direct relationship between the amount of sleep a person gets and how their immune system functions. Our bodies need the hormones, protein, and chemicals released and created when we sleep to stay well and fight infection. Doctors recommend adults get 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Have a Stress Relief Strategy – The amount of stress you are under can also significantly impact your immune system. High levels of stress can impair the immune system, increasing your vulnerability for infection. Take time each day to do something you find relaxing. Reading, writing, painting, talking a walk, praying, or even calling a friend can help you de-stress.
  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your faceGood handwashing is the best way to get rid of germs and avoid getting sick. Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, especially before you eat. If you are in the classroom and don’t have easy access to the sink, keep hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol in your classroom. Hand sanitizer will remove many of the germs, but it does not kill all of them, such as norovirus (stomach virus). Also, avoid touching your face, especially the “T” zone (eyes, nose, and mouth) to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Clean your classroom regularly, especially high-touch areas – Frequently touched surfaces harbor bacteria and viruses. Take a few minutes each night before going home (or have your students help out) and wipe down desktops, locker handles, chairs, sinks or faucets, cabinet handles, doorknobs, touch screens, and keyboards with a disinfectant cleaner.
  • Stay home when feeling ill – If you do feel ill, stay home to rest. Sickness weakens the immune system and your body needs time to recover. If you continue to push though and do not allow your body to rest and heal, you are more susceptible when the next illness comes around.

Michele Faehnle, RN, BSN is the school nurse at St. Andrew School, Columbus, Ohio and co-author of Divine Mercy for Moms and The Friendship Project.