So, today, I called in. If you have a traditional corporate-type job, this probably doesn’t strike you as anything worth sharing, but I am a teacher. And my fellow teachers can attest, calling in as a teacher is a big deal. First off, sub plans are such a pain to write , and second, we feel this sort of moral obligation to never be sick–to never miss a day because our students need to learn, and I, for one, will drag myself into work on death’s door because I feel guilty if I’m not there. There’s always something coming up–a concert, an assessment, a meeting I can’t miss, etc. etc. etc.
But I called in today. And I didn’t do it because I was sick (of body, anyway,) but because emotionally and mentally, I have nothing left in me. My house was in desperate need of a good cleaning. I have laundry that needs to be done before I go out of town this weekend. I have to get my oil changed. I needed to actually cook something, because a girl cannot live on tortilla chips alone. And I was so frustrated by the end of work yesterday, I just didn’t really like anyone or anything. So that’s what I’m doing today. All these chores. Little dumb errands. Not talking to anyone. Having my faith in my profession and humanity in general restored. De-stressing.
If you had told 19 year-old me that I would ever consider doing laundry and cleaning a bathroom “de-stressing,” I would have told you that you were insane.
And that got me thinking. We are all like this. My colleagues. Friends in other districts. Friends who teach in other states. Friends who teach in other countries. We are all, always, stressed. Every teacher I know seems to function in this constant cloud of stress and pressure. Some of it’s external, put on us by districts and parents and society. We are required, now, to teach more content at a faster pace to more children while additionally teaching the character and ethics and social behavior that was once the realm of families and homes. We are under pressure to get our test scores up (or keep them up.) We are pushed to be a part of more committees and teams and collaborations and professional learning communities. There are learning plans and development models and new curricula and a thousand other things.
But it’s not just “them.” It’s also “us.” Speaking for myself (but a pattern that I’ve seen time and time again from my fellow educators), I feel like I need to constantly prove myself to the society around me that doesn’t know what happens everyday in my classroom and believes that my job is “easy” and that I “don’t really work.” I am always working to prove them wrong. (Our district extended the teacher work day to 8.5 hours because the superintendent didn’t want parents to see us leaving the building, because they would think we “don’t work.” No joke.) But that’s just part of it. I believe in what I’m doing. I believe education matters. I love my subject area and I want to help my kids love it as much as I do. I believe that for many kids, I and other teachers are the only adult connection they have–we are the only adults that are not playing on our smart phones while we talk to them. I want to be a better teacher. I want to help them grow as people and students. I want them to succeed.
And all of this stress is exhausting.
There is something wrong with my life if, at the end of the week, all I’m up to by the time I get to Saturday is binge watching something on Netflix while I obsessively crochet a blanket, rather than doing the usual Saturday chores and errands. There is something seriously wrong with me when I don’t want to see people or do anything social ever because I have given every single atom of people-skill to my students. Something is wrong here.
And we can all talk about how it’s society’s fault, or our administration’s fault, or whatever, and I agree, that’s a huge part of it. But I can’t control that. I can control me. As I’ve been cleaning this morning, I thought about that.
I need to accept my humanity. I can only teach the best I can. I cannot do everything–even if something is good for kids, I cannot do all of the good things for kids. I am not God. I cannot save these kids. I have to do a little bit less if I am going to survive in a career in education. I have to do what I can do, but also be okay with knowing when it’s time to stop. Because when I don’t stop, when I am everything to everybody, I lose myself. I don’t have the energy for being “Emily,” because it gets lost in the sea of “Miss D.” I am not the only person in these lives that walk through my door. I can’t be. All these kiddos have families, parents, churches, clubs, and other people who are also have a hand in raising them. I admit, this is a hard pill to swallow. I know a lot of you teachers reading this are thinking how wrong I am. And maybe you can do it. You can teach and be the perfect made-for-T.V. movie teacher and still go home at the end of the night and have a spouse and children and dog, and volunteer at church and run twelve miles a night…and if that’s you, I’m impressed. I wish I could be you. But I’m learning that I can’t. I have to “make cuts” to be a better teacher, to make sure I don’t end up here repeatedly–taking sick days to clean my bathroom.
And for all of you in my boat, I’d encourage you to take a step. Leave something less-than-perfect. Go home. Make dinner. Breathe.