As the month began, I was in a grove. I was weight lifting, eating well, and meal planning.
Then I got injured.
I thought if I took a few days off, it would get better. So I took some time off and continued to eat as if I were on track. In fact, I was enjoying my hot chocolate so much every night that my husband could predict exactly the voice I would use when saying “hoooonnnneeeyyy” for hot chocolate. Luckily, my husband is the best and made it for me every time. But I digress…
I finally got frustrated enough that I just worked out anyway, which seemed to miraculously heal my back. Not really, but I felt well enough to continue. The problem was, I had gained quite a bit of weight and I was feeling pretty awful. So, I needed to get myself in check and do something that contributed to my mental health again.
I chose running.
We already had a race day scheduled. My husband and I got a kick in the pants to get our training on. So after searching for training plans, we settled on one that would kick our butts. It did. Like really did.
On Monday morning, I was fueled with coffee and dreams. Yet, I struggled to make it through 2 miles. We were scheduled for 3. I cried through the entire 2 miles, beating myself up for how out of shape I was. I came in the house and bawled while I stretched, my husband helplessly looking on. I realize that I do what I always do…beat myself up when I’m not perfect at them right away. It got me thinking…why did I think this would be easy?
Why do we think anything will be easy? Why do we think that educating children will be easy? Why do we think dealing with parents will be easy? Why do we think that keeping track of 20-35 kids progress will be easy? Why do we think life will be easy?
It shouldn’t be. We are growing, changing and aspiring to be more daily. We are literally changing people’s minds. Our job is to inspire others and take care of ourselves. Why should that be easy? It shouldn’t, it won’t be and the suffering sometimes comes from thinking it should be.
As I pushed through the ending lap on mile 5 this week, I finally remembered why it felt good to do hard things. Then you can revel in your accomplishment. You can smile and realize that when you collapse at the end of the day, you earned it.
Teaching is life’s work. It should be hard. We are amazing every day we complete it.
I have been listening out there. Teachers are BURNT. Not in like a cool way either. In a very real, I-don’t-know-if-I-can-keep-this-up way. It lit a fire under me, because something has to change.
This is where you think I’m going to go into a side speech about how society doesn’t value teachers, children are more difficult today than they were, kids are being parented by electronic devices…ok…and maybe all of that is true. I will be honest that the amount of behavioral issues that I see now in the classroom have risen to extreme levels. That said, we can’t control any of that. So how do we fix it? Do less.
The demands of teachers have risen exponentially. Between student learning goals, standardized testing, running records, test prep, merit pay, etc, we can sometimes feel like a victim to our circumstances. We feel like we lack control as professionals to do what we think is best, and honestly – we do. So, since we cannot fix that – we must fix something else.
Anna, you are confusing me…what is your point? Ok. I’ll get to it.
We can’t control the world, we can only control our outlook and how we approach every day.
There is something I say to my class when they are feeling demotivated, “I can’t care more than you do.” Your extra care doesn’t make up for the parent that won’t discipline their child at home. Your three hours after school designing a test won’t change the fact that the child didn’t study. Grading at 6am on Saturday won’t magically make a child pass.
It’s time to cut out our extra heart that we put into the profession. We are professionals. Yes, we care but we don’t have to pour our soul into a profession that simply cannot give it back to us. Yes, we do it for the kids, but kids needs adults that are well rested and balanced. Yes, we go the extra mile to make sure kids are successful, but they also need to be taught to go the extra mile for themselves.
Put your energy into the things that will pay you back. Instead of designing the pinterest-worthy lesson, sit down with a kid who is struggling and talk to them about what’s going on. Instead of grading at 6am on Saturday have your kids self-correct, only grade 3 problems, or check it off as participation. Instead of spending your energy wondering why that parent won’t back you up, invest
in a good bottle of wine, therapy, netflix, your energy into building partnerships with all parents so you have a variety of parents that will help.
You can’t save every student. You can’t win every battle. You can’t even win half of them. The only battle you can win is the outlook you have on the profession. To do this profession, we need to treat it like a marathon, not a sprint. We must work hard, care about our students, but move away from the idea that our lives must be teaching.
Put down the grading, step away from the computer (unless you are watching Netflix, do that), and leave that teaching bag in the corner! Then, and only then, will we start to see a shift in the culture around teaching. If we can’t make decisions about policy, standardized tests, or pay…we can make decisions about ourselves.
You need this, because you are an amazing teacher. You deserve to be an amazing human too.
If you still hear yourself saying “I have to do this,” check out Stop being a martyr!
Ok…by now, you may have noticed that I am all about systems to make life easier! Self-care is not just the beauty of bubblebaths, but it’s making the must do’s very easy, so you can enjoy all parts of your life. Believe me, there was a time where our housekeeper folded our laundry and I didn’t have to (heaven!). However, when she quit for a different job that didn’t involve folding underwear, we had to develop a better system. So here’s my laundry model in 10 steps.
This system will save you time, energy, and will put it into a format that will make you get it done!
If you love systems too, make sure to “like” my page: https://www.facebook.com/DesalvoAnna/
Education is an extrovert’s job. Almost every personality quiz I’ve taken has put me in a quieter profession. That said, I’m what you might call a social introvert. I like people, and I enjoy interacting with them mostly, but it simply wears me out. This was never more true than this week. I tried self care but couldn’t get the balance down. There was always something else to do, or get done. Somehow I ended up laying on my couch, completely victim to my own burn out.
Have you ever been there? Retired to the couch each night just trying desperately to recharge before waking up and doing it all again? Education can wear you out in the best of circumstances, but if something is off in your kids, the environment, or way the wind blows – it can be downright miserable. It’s the reason for the rise of teacher memes, comedians and web shows. The fact is, teaching is hard, and we’ve got to find the joy in the dark parts to stay afloat.
I received a call from my Principal after a particularly rough day. She told me to scale back, maybe not push myself so hard. I assured her I would keep trying to do this. As a perfectionist, I’m never quite sure where my “balance” might be. That said, I also intended for my kids to work hard, perform well and behave equally well. There was little time to scale back.
My pod teacher and I had already been working on strategies to leave me more filled at the end of the day. She is an extrovert, so while she didn’t quite understand my plight, after a few minutes watching in my classroom – she could see how the kids were wearing on me. She suggested a 10 minute block of silence at lunch daily. This could help me recharge and prepare myself to take on the rest of the day.
So, I set to work doing this, but that meant my lessons were a bit more scattered. I wasn’t quite as on top of things because I didn’t use my lunch as prep. Well, I had to be OK with it. Mainly because, I wasn’t going to last the year otherwise. I believe sometimes the universe will knock you on your butt if you don’t listen to the quiet signals. I hadn’t. So it was time for me to be more deliberate.
Self-care isn’t an act, it’s a habit. It’s something you must build in, so that when times get busy, it’s still there to sustain you. I wrestled with the lack of sleep in the last week, so I struggled with my kids. I didn’t have “time” to have family meals, so I was challenged in my classroom. I didn’t spend time reading at night, so I went to sleep depleted.
Exhaustion won this week, so it’s back to resetting my intentions and self-care habits.
Goal: 10 minutes of quiet at lunch every day.
As teachers, I know we have a very slim amount of free time, and let’s be honest, money. However, there have been few times in my life where I have truly felt I had to go without. I’m all about investing my money into timesaving tricks to make my life manageable and fun. I’ve compiled a few of my own tricks for your reading pleasure. 🙂
Making your life a good life requires work, but the moments that you set up for success will be that much sweeter when you do the work up front. This way, when you come home, you can relax to a clean house, cute clothes and a nice meal!
“Connection is why we’re here. It gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”
If that doesn’t knock you on your ass, I don’t know what will.
“Shame is the fear of disconnection.”
Remember that time you got really frustrated that you had to work so much…and you were exhausted…and realized you should have negotiated more for your salary because who wants to be working all weekend, and all week doing all the things for what little you are paid?!?!? That was you 2 minutes ago? Yes, I know.
I hear teachers all the time complain about how they are working too hard. This profession will drag you through the mud if you let it. Now, I don’t mean that your won’t have rewards. With the level of energy you are putting into it, however, and the amount of heart that follows, it’s easy to get into that space. So, this is for you if you can remember a time like above.
Let me take you to a recent time I was pouring over my grading. I have a policy that I take 30 minutes of grading home per night. I do this because my daughter is working on her homework at the same time. So I can be home for her, and productive at the same time. What is 30 minutes worth of grading two-three small assignments (quick 1-4 proficiency grading using a generic rubric/scoring system), and one large assignment (like an essay) with one mini assignment (just a check off). So…back to the story…I was pouring over my grading, it was taking longer than I anticipated, so instead of setting it aside, I powered through. It was now 5:30 pm, way past my 30 minute cut off. I had to exercise, get dinner ready and take my daughter to Tae Kwon Do. My eyes welled up.
“Why is this job so hard? Will it ever be less work? Will I ever get to leave my work at work?” Then, the flip side, I started to blame myself, “What’s wrong with me? Why can other people do it and not me? Why do I suck?”
The rest of the evening I was bitter. I was angry at myself and my job. I quickly took on a victim mentality, “Well, if I just had done…” STOP STOP STOP! Cut! End scene! Whatever. I had to be honest with myself. I had to tell myself to stop being a martyr! You are not a victim to your job, nor should you be. Getting a license in teaching does not mean you owe your life to the profession. What it does mean, however, is you need to really need to hold yourself accountable.
I am a workaholic by nature. I give everything I do 150,000,000% (hyperbolic speech intended). Guess what happens? I burn out. So, pacing myself is a key ingredient to not going into my martyr brain. My default is to blame either myself or circumstances for this burn out. There is a difference between blaming yourself and holding yourself accountable – one is done out of shame, the other out of empowerment and self love.
What does it take to hold yourself accountable without shame? First, accept that you are not a martyr. No one is forcing you to do something you don’t want to do. You love teaching or you wouldn’t be here, even if right now it’s hard to remember why. Whether your administrator changed something last minute and is requiring a formal observation the week before break is irrelevant. You are in the profession, good or bad. Second, appreciate yourself. Remind yourself what gifts you have that brought you into teaching. Your enormous heart is part of what got you into the profession. Third, create self awareness. While your heart got you into teaching, it is also easy to let it be the adrenaline that drives you when you are tired. There are likely signals that you are doing that – physical signals, I get tired and a head ache. Notice these signals and treat them by offering yourself the gift of rest: a 15 minute break, exercise, or some chocolate (an apple if you are feeling healthy). Finally, set your intention for next time. Instead of focusing on what you did wrong, give yourself a focus on what to do next time. Look back on the signal that you felt and what will you do next time?
Most importantly repeat this mantra:
I will not sugar coat it: this job is HARD. So are most public service jobs, ones where you have a responsibility for the betterment of a group of people. So are most JOBS for that matter. That said, you deserve to have the best life! Part of that is taking responsibility for the hardships and working within your power to make it manageable for you.
As we start a new year, a time after break, or even just a new week – remind yourself that you are in control of your teaching life. Remind yourself…I will not be a martyr.
So, you’re going back to school after winter break. And…you feel a little depressed, maybe anxious.
Let me tell you a story: last Thursday anxiety started, I started thinking about everything I had to do to get back on track. We had two snow days before winter break so we were seriously behind. Then, I found out that my administrator was coming in to watch us on our days back! AHHH! I panicked, I cried, my husband had to calm me down. Then I took deep breaths and really focused in on the reality of the situation. What did I really need to accomplish and what was just the stress of responsibility coming back.
Here are some quick tips to use at any point in the break.
I am going to bed early tonight at getting ready for my first day back!
Are you a perfectionist? Do you want everything to be right the first time? Do you get angry or frustrated at yourself when a lesson or project doesn’t go as you anticipated? Well…STOP! I know, I know, it’s not that easy. Being a perfectionist is the perfect blend of compulsion and anxiety. It isn’t something that you can fix overnight. However, it is a big ‘ol waste of time.
You see…you are in a profession that deals with people. You will teach lessons that suck. Sometimes your administrator will come in when you are trying to tame the circus. A school tour may happen as your students are silently reading. Forgive yourself, and move on. If others don’t forgive you, well, hold your chin up high and move on.
What becomes the most important part of teaching is learning to be kind to yourself. There are so many people out there waiting to catch you in a mistake. However, being real allows everyone to give you grace. Apologize when you make a mistake and move on.
What strategies can you use help the process? Start working with good enough. Build layers of complexity to your lessons, rather than razzle dazzling every detail. Focus on the areas that have the most return on investment. For instance, if your administrator is focused on reading this year, use your energy on that. Everything else will have to be “good enough”. Pick 1-3 things that you are going to ROCK this year, and let certain subjects be good.
You are amazingly imperfect. It’s ok to be ok with it.