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Self-Care—It’s the Best Gift Activists Can Give Themselves

Teacher, activist, and NEA member Donte Felder shares his strategies for avoiding burnout and finding joy in your activism.
Published: December 11, 2017 Last Updated: May 17, 2023
Donte Felder dressed as Superman at comic con event
Superman aka teacher Donte Felder recharges his spirits and sense of fun at Comic-Con.

Taking care of the world often means we’re not taking care of ourselves. You’ve had a really busy year at school—teaching students and advocating for their rights. All this on top of caring for your own families. Guess who gets lost in the mix?

Civil rights activist Audre Lord said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” To help you lavish some love on yourself during the holidays, NEA Edjustice reached out to one of the most upbeat educators we know, Seattle social studies and theater arts teacher Donte Felder, for tips on reviving your spirit and replenishing your soul.

Tips for the Educator Activist

Pace yourself

My father was an educator, and he taught me at a young age that you have to help yourself before you can help others. If you’re running at top speed without a break, you’re fine for the short term, but in the long run it’s not so good. Social justice activism is a marathon, not a sprint.

Nurture yourself physically as well as spiritually and mentally. You don’t have to have six-pack abs to run that marathon but you need to stay healthy. Take a hike, practice yoga, play basketball. Stay active to stimulate those brain cells. And drink—not alcohol but water!

Don’t forget to play

As educators, you know your kids need to play. Activists need playtime as well. Find people who are like-minded who will play and laugh with you. My big thing is taking my daughter to Comic-Con, a celebration of nerdiness for science fiction and comic fans. Allow yourself to have fun and make a better world in the process.

Find a mentor

Sometimes you get caught up in the fight for justice and you’re running so hard, you forget to sit down and learn from other people.

Do something good for yourself daily

Donte Felder dressed as Cyborg at Comic Con event
Cyborg Donte and daughter with actor Ray Fisher.

Educators are “on” from morning till night—performing in front of a class full of students, attending meetings with parents and administrators, advocating for the rights of vulnerable students, and interacting with their own families at the end of the day. Many first- to three-year teachers leave the profession because they burn out fast. So take 30 minutes someplace quiet just for yourself—without grading papers!

Identify that one thing that sustains you

I enjoy theater arts. When I’m watching a play or movie or creating one myself*, there are more smiles than frowns. You need to find the hobby that’s going to keep a smile on your face.

Let your activism bring you joy

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves we’re doing this to better our communities and the world. Being an activist doesn’t mean we’re always fighting, shouting, or stressing. There’s a time for raising our voices, but we have to control our energy instead of letting it drain us. How do we do that? Remember what Martin Luther King told us—when we march for justice, each step we take should be in love.

Check out Mindful Teachers: Self-Care Resources for Educators for great strategies and resource links. And listen to the DJ Spinna playlist.

*Donte’s play, Blerds [black nerds], examining the Black Lives Matter Movement and where we go from here, debuts this spring. He’s also writing a screenplay about homeless students and the school system.

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