being a teacher, being me

Perhaps Like Me

I have been meaning to check in on here, to write out words that do not carry the weight of the world within them, and yet every night, as I fall asleep before 9 PM, I am left with no words, no energy, no reason to share what we are doing because all of my energy seems to be centered in merely existing as this year unfolds.

We thought that last year would be hard, and yet this year, with its intangible difficulties, with its ever-present pressure to continue to just figure it out, has snuck up on me and my family in a way I could have not imagined. How do you maintain a sense of family when you barely see each other beyond the dining room table and guiltily still put your own children to bed around 8 PM just so that you can try to catch up on the sleep that seems to never be caught?

Perhaps, you find yourself in a similar situation. Unable to quite explain to others why this year is harder than the last and yet wish that you could so that perhaps someone could you give you an answer of what to do instead? Because you have tried to change the way you teach, you have adapted, differentiated, cut back, raised up, and lessened the load. You have sought out the experts that graciously share their knowledge, eager to give as much as they can even as they don’t have to navigate the everyday realities of teaching during an ongoing pandemic and you wonder how much they really can know. Perhaps, like me, you have read books, listened to podcasts, browsed social media, and stared in awe as others seem to be functioning just fine, and wondered what is wrong with you and this exhaustion that creeps itself into everything you don’t do. Perhaps, like me, you have tried to make space for self-care but realized that even there you run out of time. And so the guilt intensifies because now you cannot even care for yourself well so how are you ever to be trusted with the care of others?

And perhaps like me, you stand in your classroom, surrounded by incredible children, and realize that this is not the root of the exhaustion but everything that waits outside of the door is. That these kids, these brilliant, resilient, vivacious kids, are not the reason for the despair but one of the only things that combat it. That if you are feeling this way then how do the kids feel? And you see it in the dragged footsteps of your own children as you get them out of bed, in their short responses when you ask what homework they have, in their pleas to please stay home just so we can be together. The world changed and yet we are expected to go on as if it hasn’t because we have so much to do.

And the tiredness is pervasive. It shows up when you check your email and see one more helpful tip or additional thing to do. It shows up when you are told of the professional development that must still be completed even though you know that you have developed yourself more in the last 20 months than you ever had before in your teaching career and no official recognition happened for that. It shows up when you are expected to be evaluated this year and it makes you want to laugh because you are certain this year is not the year to think of the future because you can barely keep up with the growth you have already been forced through. And how are administrators supposed to find time for that anyway? It shows up when your community is at odds with schools at the center because of what they say you do or don’t do to indoctrinate children

Yet the world keeps spinning and we are told to not only continue to do the near-impossible; catch them up, fill the gap, change your teaching, change the world, but also to take care of ourselves, to rest, meditate, and go for walks. To consider how every action we do charts our course for the future. And you try, and you fail, and you feel like it will never be enough, and yet you show up the next day and try again. Because that’s what we do. We try again, even if we no longer know what to try or how we can find the energy for again.

And we will do so until we break because that is what the system has trained us to do.

So in this quiet moment of this Saturday without plans, I urge us all to also recognize that the new normal is being shaped right now and that unless we collectively raise our voices and push back on the increased workload, the increased pressure to get back to what was a broken before, this will be the norm. That this feeling that so many of us carry of not being enough, of exhaustion, will be the feelings that shape the teaching professions even more so for years to come. And it wasn’t like teaching was an easy profession to begin with.

So perhaps, like me, you don’t need more to do but less. For someone to remind you that we are doing hard things every day. That the kids in our care are doing hard things every day. Of how we inch by inch are building a new normal and how we need to be in charge of what that normal looks like alongside the kids in our care. That if we do not continually remember how broken the system was to begin with then surely we will try to glue back together the pieces even as the cracks show.

And so I remember how important boundaries are, of how it cannot all be placed on the shoulders of educators because that was never what our job was supposed to be. Of the power of saying no, guilt-free. Of the power of raising your voice and pushing back. Of saying enough. Of recognizing that there is only so much you can do and that does not make you a bad educator but instead a realistic one. Of knowing that every day the biggest gift we can give to the kids in our care is to be fully rested, to be fully present in order to recognize that no, the problem is not just you, it is the very system we reside in, one that we have a chance to shape into something better than it was before but not if we don’t push back on the things being forced upon us now. So rest up and raise your voice when you can. I know I will.

10 thoughts on “Perhaps Like Me”

  1. Thank you for putting this out there, I’ve been puzzling about why this year has felt so hard, and what to put in my end of year report when I can’t just write about what a long slog it has been and I’ve worked harder than ever before. Or my end of year appraisal when it’s hard to put into words how much I feel I’ve had to up my game this year. Thank you, I’ll read your post again before I write said reports and attend said appraisal meeting. We can still strive to achieve our usual high expectations we hold for ourselves but with a bit of kindness to ourselves.

  2. YES. THANK YOU. This year is so much harder than last year, but I don’t think any of us can put a finger on exactly why. It’s just….everything.

  3. I retired in June 2020 and while I desperately miss the students, I’m so glad I did. This pandemic as well as the general state of affairs have just intensified my realization of how broken our education system is. If I had stayed, I would have continued to teach and do my best on behalf of my students, but my heart would not have been in it. It makes me so sad.

  4. It’s hard because so many people have so many ideas that only teachers can carry out. It’s hard because suddenly futuristic education is abruptly in the present. It’s hard because everybody sees possibilities but only a few can carry out these ‘probable’ possibilities and children are the guinea pigs. It’s hard because every other Tom, Dick or Harry want to be the one with the next big idea where technology and education is concerned. It’s hard because the ones sinking under the weight of it all dare not lift up their voice in protest because of the myriad of repercussions.

    However, I have been learning this over the past year or more:
    1. I lay my frustration and inadequacies at the Lord’s feet
    2. sufficient for that day are my worries, so I won’t worry about tomorrow
    3. I prioritise my family (this being my most recent learning and in a harder way than I would have liked) — as my husband pointed out in his very practical way, the school won’t stop functioning if a teacher isn’t driving herself up the wall to get things done, but the home will stop functioning properly if the only wife and mum isn’t able to pay it any attention at all.

  5. So very true. Thank you for the words. I have passed them on to most of my colleagues so they know we are not alone. This year is brutal. And, yes, it’s hard to actually describe why. I keep thinking I’m just getting old, but even my young colleagues feel it. THANK YOU again! 🙂
    Happy Holidays.

  6. This is an outstanding post. Once again your honesty is breathtaking. Yes, the biggest gift we can give our kids is to be fully rested, fully present, fully engaged and fully fulfilled in our own lives. We cannot put our students’ needs in front of ours or our needs in front of our students’. We are all human beings and we all have needs. We need to build empathy and compassion for ourselves and coach, model and share that building and reshaping with our students.

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