Perhaps like me, you are sitting behind your computer screen right now wondering what else you can get done tonight? Perhaps, like me, you just drank another cup of tea hoping that the warmth and caffeine will give you the boost you need to get through just a few more things. After all, the list grew today, as it seemingly has done every single day since the first decisions about the upcoming school year rolled in. Perhaps you just promised yourself to get up early, before the kids are awake so they don’t see you working again, but you can get so much done at 6 AM in the dark.
Perhaps this is not how you envisioned your night. Perhaps like me, you had promised yourself that tonight you would make a healthy dinner, you would sit down and listen to the stories your kids had to share, after all, you were gone most of the day working in your classroom for in-service. Perhaps you had planned a movie night but then remembered that one big thing you needed to get done before 9 AM tomorrow and now you sit with headphones plugged in trying to find the words you need to express just how heavy this load feels right now.
Perhaps, like me, you worry about sounding ungrateful, perhaps you worry that it sounds so much like complaining when in reality our situation could be so much worse. I am not forced to go back to teach right now, we go back virtually. I have a job, a roof over our heads, our health. I have resources and support in a country that doesn’t share freely of either. I work in a district that truly cares about not just the kids but also the adults in charge of their learning.
And yet, I feel like I am in pieces right now. Like my to-do list has a to-do list. Like every day something new needs to be done as we try to meet a moving finish line based on how great the educational experience should be for all of our kids despite the global pandemic and a nation filled with rightful protests and anger. Like my emotions are right at the surface, like sleep eludes me and I forget to eat because it is easier to just keep on working. Perhaps if I learn another idea, another tool, if I create another thing the kids that are trusted to me will feel seen, will feel valued, will care about our time in English this year. If I read another article, attend another session, collaborate with someone else, it will make all of the difference. It will make the biggest difference.
And I will reach them all through the computer because they will see my carefully laid out plans, my inviting virtual classroom and know that I am ready.
And my husband tells me to stop. My kids ask me to come play. My own body sends all of the signals that it needs for me to hopefully understand that this is serious. That this is not sustainable. That this is not what we signed up for when we chose to be educators. That it is time for us to raise our voices because perhaps finally this nation, with its emphasis on the perfect teacher myth has pushed us to a breaking point. I am at a breaking point. I know I am not alone.
I have never seen so many educators resign.
I have never seen so many educators retire.
I have never seen so many educators cry.
And you can say that we signed up for it. That we knew what we had to do. That we are in it for the kids and that should be enough. That everyone else is figuring it out so so should we.
That we shouldn’t project our fears. That we need to man up, buck up, pull up our big girl pants, and stop whining so much. Grow a pair, shut our mouths, and finally know what it feels like to have a real job where we don’t get to have the summers off or leave at 4 PM every day.
Or perhaps we should schedule more self-care. Go for more walks. Do more yoga. Take care. Take a break. Take a breath. Take a step back.
But back to what?
Because my brain doesn’t stop churning. My head hurts.
Because I care so deeply. We all do.
Because I want this to be the best experience that I can make it. We all do.
Because when you say that the kids can’t learn as well I want to prove you wrong. We all do.
So piece by piece, I am pushing myself to extinction. Piece by piece, I have blurred the lines between my work and my life. Fed into the American notion that you are your job. That teaching has to be the biggest calling for you to be good. Higher than being a mom. Higher than being a person. Teacher first, everything else second. That if you don’t sacrifice as much as you are asked then you must not care enough. That when we say enough we are immediately suspected of not being in it for the right reasons, for not being innovative, for not truly knowing how to be a teacher.
But piece by piece, I am going to reclaim my own existence. I am going to say it loudly so that I can hear it through my own stubbornness. My own dedication to doing just one more thing. My own crazy commitment to constantly pursue something more, something better. Rest, Pernille, reflect, Pernille, remember everything you already know and give yourself room to breathe.
This is my public plea for others to do the same. To set boundaries now before the year continues. To repeat to me that I will figure it out. To repeat to me that I don’t have to sacrifice myself for 7th grade English to be great. That I am only human and that I cannot and shall not do this alone. That I am only a piece of a larger societal puzzle that needs to engage in deeper soul searching about who and what we value in this nation.
We are all just pieces.
So perhaps, you have already reached this conclusion and you feel better. Perhaps you are not there just yet. Perhaps, like me, you doubt your own words and fancy commitments even as you write them.
Perhaps there are great moments where you know how exciting this year is for growth. Perhaps those moments will last, but they won’t if we don’t notice them.
So dear educators, this is me sending love out into the world, letting you know that it is okay to say no. To say no more. To set boundaries and stick with them. Just like we teach the kids. Just like we were taught so many years ago. Don’t let others make you forget that.
And perhaps, you can let yourself believe that it will be okay. That no amount of preparation will ever truly make us ready. That as we search for that one more piece what we are really looking for is the kids themselves. That once they are with us, we will feel better. It happens every year. It will happen this year too. We just have to believe it.