How Giving up Caffeine for a Month Refocused My Teaching

Alex T. ValencicBlog, Reflect Better, Teach Happier


  • This post shares the story of how giving up caffeine for a month shows that it is possible to reset our habits.
  • We can give up teaching practices that we do just because we are in the habit of doing them. Then we have room to make the choice to do things because they are in the best interest of our students!

How Giving up Caffeine for a Month Refocused My Teaching

My school district runs a staff wellness program that includes different challenges every month.

Some challenges include getting in 10,000 steps each day, drinking a certain amount of water daily, monitoring sodium intake, getting enough sleep, etc. The challenge for the month of May was to limit yourself to one caffeinated beverage a day.

Now, I’m certainly an oddity in the education field because I don’t drink coffee. Ever. I also don’t drink tea—I do drink herbal teas, but those are technically herbal infusions and they contain as much tea as ginger ale contains ale. I drink the occasional caffeinated soda but even that is usually on a limited basis.

For reasons not quite clear to me, I found myself drinking a lot more caffeinated beverages in the month of April than is normal for me.

I started to notice the impact it was having on me.

From poor sleep at night to difficulty waking up in the morning to changes in my mood, what I was doing was impacting me as a person and, consequently, my work. I also noticed that I was quickly growing dependent on those caffeinated beverages, drinking a can of Cherry Coke in the morning, a large Dr. Pepper from a fast food restaurant with lunch, and a caffeinated sparkling water with dinner. I was no longer drinking something because I wanted to; I was drinking it because it felt like I had to.

We can give up our teaching practices that we do just because we are in the habit of doing them and make the choice to do them or not because they are in the best interest of our students! Click To Tweet

So when my district announced the May wellness challenge, I decided to take it one step further and do a full abstention of caffeinated beverages for one month.

I wanted to get back to doing something because I wanted to, not because I had to.

It was hard. Really, really hard. May is already a stressful enough time for educators with so many end-of-year events happening one after another. I had several after-school meetings that went until late into the evening, school board meetings, planning meetings for community organisations, and still trying to find time to engage in leisure activities with my spouse. But I did it. I went a full month without a single caffeinated beverage.

As I was reflecting on this experience, my mind went to my own educational practices.

I found myself making a mental inventory of things that I was doing not because I believed they were in the best interest of those I serve but simply because it was what I felt like I had to do. I thought about my past practices in the classroom, of things like assigning daily math homework, of limiting times students could use the restroom. And I thought about my work as a curriculum coordinator and how many meetings we hold that seem to exist just for the sake of meeting, of creating documents that get put on the district website but never get read by anyone except those who created them because we don’t tell others about them. 

The inertia of the status quo can be a hard thing to slow down, but it can be done!

Much like I was able to give up caffeinated beverages for a month and reset my habits, we can give up our teaching practices that we do just because we are in the habit of doing them and make the choice to do them or not because they are in the best interest of our students! Just as I now drink a Cherry Coke or Dr. Pepper every now and then because I choose to do so, we may still assign a math homework assignment or plan a time for the students to all use the restroom around the same time or have a group meeting to discuss a project. But instead of doing it for no other reason than “that’s what we always do,” we can be intentional about what we are doing with our students.

[scroll down to keep reading]

Simon Sinek famously encouraged the world to “start with why.” We should do the same.

Why are we assigning homework? (The students have shown mastery at school and so this will give them a chance to demonstrate mastery in a different setting.) Why are we planning bathroom breaks? (We are leaving for a field trip and it will be easier to get to our destination on time if we don’t have to stop to use a restroom on the way.) Why are we meeting? (We need a chance to bounce ideas off of each other and come to a consensus about our next steps.) Why are we writing this thirty-page planning document? (The school board has asked for it and it will go on the district website in order to fulfill the district’s pledge to greater transparency.)

Some of you have started your summer vacations. Some of you are starting them soon. And some of you may be working year-round. Whatever your context, I challenge you to examine your habits and your practices, whether work-related or not, and consider which ones you are doing with purpose and which ones you are doing “just because.”

Give yourself permission to give up the things that don’t have a clear purpose and the freedom to do those things that you know will have a positive impact. And hey, maybe you’ll come back to some of those things you gave up; that’s okay! The important thing is to know your why, your purpose.

About Alex T. Valencic

Alex Valencic is an educator, former small business owner, Boy Scout, volunteer drug prevention specialist, unrepentant bibliophile, and a geek of all things. He worked as a substitute teacher for three years before achieving his lifelong dream of teaching fourth grade, which he did for seven years in Urbana, Illinois, before accepting his current position as the Curriculum Coordinator for 21st Century Teaching and Learning in Freeport, Illinois, where he not only supports innovative educational practices in the classroom but also oversees social studies, science, and nearly all of the elective courses in the district.