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NEA News

Stand Up, Speak Out, Stay Healthy

Here are some tips from an activist educator on staying healthy and alert during walkouts and protests.
Published: June 2018

Key Takeaways

  1. Speaking out and standing up for your students in public takes both courage and stamina.
  2. Eating healthy, staying hydrated and reducing stress can go a long way in keeping your body and mind strong.

Stand Up, Speak Out, Stay Healthy

Last school year, educators demonstrated and walked out of schools across the nation to bring attention to abysmal conditions facing schools and students following decades of funding neglect.

Standing up and speaking out takes both courage and stamina. As we head toward a new school year, Audrey Cunneely, a health assistant in Tucson, and Arizona Education Support Professional of the Year, says the lessons she learned during her state’s walkout can be applied during the school day, too.

Get Enough Sleep

Lack of sleep causes physical exhaustion, and makes it difficult to stand on your feet all day in a walkout or in a classroom. It also impairs your judgement, lowers your ability to cope with annoyances—like a heckler at a demonstration or a disruptive student—and makes organizing and planning much more difficult. A good night’s sleep will provide the mental acuity you need to advocate for your cause in a walkout andto manage a classroom full of students.

Eat Healthy Meals and Snacks

NEA members in RedforEd protests

Say no to the doughnuts! While delicious and filling in the moment, a donut is full of sugar and refined carbs that will cause you to crash. You need a nutrition powerhouse for breakfast to give you the energy you’ll need during a walkout or a full day at school. Go for lean protein and fruits. Keep your energy going all day with chicken or fish, nuts, and vegetables. Pack a tuna fish sandwich on whole wheat bread or a chicken salad. Snacks like almonds and apple slices are tasty and healthy, and will keep your blood sugar stable. Avoid sugary, salty snacks that can cause dehydration.

Stay Hydrated

Speaking of hydration, drink plenty of water. It will help you to maintain your body's normal temperature during the heat of a walkout or in a stuffy classroom. Every part of your body, from organs to cells, rely on water for overall health. To avoid scrambling to find a bathroom during a walkout or leaving your class for a bathroom break, take frequent but small sips of ice water.

Protect Your Voice

Drinking water will help a lot, but shouting at a rally or talking over a rowdy class can tax vocal chords. Avoid shouting. Consider using a megaphone, or join in a group chant to amplify your message. Avoid screaming by projecting from your diaphragm, and not your throat. In your classroom, take frequent breaks from talking while students work independently. To get students’ attention, turn the lights on and off or clap your hands rather than shouting above the din.

Get—and Stay—Fit!

You can’t be a couch potato and expect to successfully participate in a walkout with colleagues or be at your best in the classroom. You’ve got to be heart healthy, and that takes exercise. During the school day, find time to go for a brisk walk. If you have recess duty, walk as much as you can. During lunch, take 10 minutes to walk around the building outside for fresh air, or up and down the halls on a rainy day—adding a flight of stairs if you can. Perhaps you can invite colleagues to walk laps in the gymnasium. If you have planning time with fellow educators, suggest an outdoor "walk and talk." All of it adds up quickly, and if and when you march on your capitol, you’ll have the stamina to go as many days as necessary.

Stress Less

It’s stressful to walk out of your school and fight for your rights and the rights of your students, but with a positive mindset, taking action becomes empowering. The stress of poor school working conditions can also be overwhelming, but finding ways to de-stress will improve your mental wellbeing and overall health. Take a moment to breathe deeply and slowly. Make time for gentle stretching, and look at something you find beautiful—a tree, a picture of a child or pet, a patch of blue sky, or art. Pause. Reflect. Breathe. You’ve got this.

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.