Choosing to interview Sarah Forst, The Designer Teacher, was a no-brainer for me. Sarah was one of the first teachers I really connected with on Instagram and I am so grateful for her continuous inspiration, work ethic and creativity. I was so lucky to be able to collaborate with her to create a breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal prep guide for teachers and am so excited about the launch of her new product, Teacher Care Crate.

Sarah is passionate about special education and tries to empower teachers to feel more “peaceful & purposeful” through the products and resources she creates. She’s also passionate about social justice, design, and running her small business. Sarah lives in the Chicago area with her husband, two pups, and houseplants! Learn more about Sarah below!  

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 Q: Who is Sarah? What are some things that people might not know about you looking at your Instagram and blog?

A: I’m a design major turned teacher turned designer! I live in the Chicago area with my husband and two dogs. I think a lot of people don’t know I’m not in the classroom this year, even though I’ve tried to be open about it. I suppose the name The Designer Teacher is kind of misleading!

Q: What inspired you to start The Designer Teacher instagram and blog?

A: Well, I started my Teachers Pay Teachers store first, and then I noticed a lot of TPT sellers had blogs and instagram accounts. I actually don’t remember which one I started first! I love to write and had a blog during college (called Teacup Adventure, ha!), so it made sense for me to start a teacher blog. I wanted to post teacher stuff on instagram, but I didn’t think my friends would appreciate all teacher stuff all the time on my personal account! I also noticed that there were very few Title I teachers in the online teaching world at the time, around 2014. What I was seeing on instagram and on blogs didn’t represent my experience teaching on the South Side in Chicago Public Schools at ALL. I wanted to share that experience and connect with other teachers in similar settings. Thankfully now I see teachers from all sorts of different schools and settings!

Q: What was your most challenging experience in the classroom? What did you learn from it?

A: Wow, so many things go through my mind when you ask that question! I started teaching with very little experience (which is something I would do differently now, if I could), and I was beyond overwhelmed when I first started as a special education teacher. I had one particular student, we’ll call him A, who seemed to hate me. He didn’t want to come with me for services, he would yell at me, he would refuse to work-- all that. As an idealistic 22-year-old, I was devastated. This was not what I had envisioned! I tried all the “management” techniques my teaching program had taught me, and none of it worked. Out of desperation, I started reading aloud Harry Potter to A and the other student I had during that time, thinking it might engage them more than the phonics readers that were at their decoding level. A would rest his head on his desk and not say a word while I read, and I thought he was just bored and mad. One day, a couple chapters in, his head popped up and he goes, “Malfoy did WHAT?! That’s BOGUS!” I’m not going to say it was a complete turnaround and we never had any problems again. But a shared love of Harry Potter turned into a mutual respect and a sense of trust between us. I learned that all the management strategies and idealism in the world can’t replace a genuine relationship with a student.

Q: Tell us more about the Teacher Care Crate! What is it? How were you inspired to start this new project?

A: Teacher Care Crate is a monthly self care subscription box for teachers. It includes 5 items a month, all designed or curated with self care in mind. I’m super picky about products (did I mention I was a design major in college?), so you can trust that every item is going to be carefully made or chosen. The first box had a handmade bath bomb, a beaded mantra bracelet, stress relief tea, organic chocolate, an art print, and a mini air plant. I LOVE subscription boxes (seriously, I currently subscribe to and have tried SO many) so the idea of a teacher box had definitely occurred to me. But I was worried about whether I could make it profitable and if there would be any demand for it. Then my friend Tamara, of Mrs. Russell’s Room, suggested that I do a self care box for teachers. I couldn’t stop thinking about, so I started testing the waters and got a really positive response!

Q: What does self-care mean to you? Why do you think it's so important for teachers to focus on self-care?

A: I know self care is a bit of a buzzword right now, but it honestly changed my life. I have an anxiety disorder, and I started going to weekly therapy last school year when things were getting really bad. You won’t believe this if you follow me on Instagram now, but when my therapist asked me what I did for self care in October 2016, I said “sleep and run.” After enlightening me that those things did not count and telling me that I was literally working myself to death at 26, my therapist assigned me homework of doing “nothing” twice a week for 10 minutes. I’m not kidding when I tell you this was HARD for me. I just felt like I always, always had something to do for school and that that something was urgent. Gradually I got better at it, and now I have lots of self care activities built into my schedule, like baths and puzzling. While not every teacher has an anxiety disorder, I know I’m not alone in sacrificing myself for my students. The burnout rate for teachers is SO high, and especially for special ed teachers, and especially for urban teachers. If teachers don’t take care of themselves, they’re not going to make it. And even if they do, they’re going to be miserable, and I truly believe teachers deserve to be happy!

Q: What advice do you have for teachers who want to take great care of themselves but feel overwhelmed or too busy?

A: My first advice is to start small. Like I said, I started with 10 minutes twice a week. I would come home after school and color in an adult coloring book for 10 minutes. Because it was “homework” from my therapist, I felt compelled to do it. Well teachers, I’m giving you the same homework! My other advice is to schedule it in. I always wanted to go to yoga, but it just never happened. Once I put it in my calendar and enlisted my husband to go with me, I started going to yoga every Friday. I also scheduled in a bath on Sunday night, since that was such a stressful time for me. Around 8:30, I would cut off working and take a bath before going to sleep. Because it was on the schedule, I could make sure I had at least the minimum done by that time.