Hey, can we talk?
I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately, especially as we approach a new teaching year. I know you love what you do but sometimes I worry about you. I worry that you will let the overwhelm of the job get to you again. I am worried that you will put too much pressure on yourself. I worry that you will keep saying yes, when really you need to say no. I worry that you will spend your own time and your own money only to wind up feeling unappreciated, broke and exhausted. I worry that one day you will wake up and say no more. I am worried that this job will break you, again. I worry because I am you.
We begin a new year, so full of hope and enthusiasm that this year will be different. We start the year with a tidy desk, fresh walls and that feeling of a fresh start. The stress and overwhelm from last year has melted away, replaced with sun-kissed skin and a renewed appreciation for the job and the kids we love so much. But what starts as excitement for new kids, new learning, new working habits quickly turns sour when the stress and overwhelm hits you, sometimes within the first few days before the kids even start back. You go from being carefree and losing track of the days to instant overwhelm. Which is ridiculous right? You have just spent the last six weeks recovering and resetting the clock – you walked back into the classroom refreshed and enthusiastic.
Teachers are givers. It is in our nature. We give our time. We give our love. We give our energy. We give our tears. We give our laughter. We give and we give and we give, and then we give some more. Somewhere along the way, the culture of teaching has shifted to the point where it is an expectation that we give everything to our kids – our time, love, energy, attention and sometimes our money. Because teaching is considered a ‘calling’, society and teachers have allowed teaching to become more than just a job – for so many of us, it has become who we are more than what we do, and that is not ok. As a new year is beginning to unfold after a summer of rest and recuperation, we feel ready to face the world. We feel refreshed. We feel energised. We feel like this is the year things will be different, and for the first couple of weeks it is different – you are different – you are the best you. You are calm. You are patient. You sleep well. You are kind. Your voice is somewhat reminiscent of Mary Poppins, or her chimney sweeping side kick, Bert, still sweet and lacking that sarcastic undertone and those involuntary deep belly breaths you do in order to try and keep your shit together. New year – new you, right?
This year will be different. You will be different. You will be better…. You want to be better.
Slowly though, she creeps up on you. She embeds herself in you like the roots of a tree, pushing deep into the earth and spreading as far as she can. Before you know it, she has you, firmly in her grasp, unable to move. Unable to breathe. It is as if she is a jealous lover. Jealous of anything that brings you joy. Jealous of anyone else who brings you joy. She wants to keep you in a tight embrace pretending she is supporting you and giving you happiness only she can give you, but you are under her control, doing everything you can to please her – and you let her. Before you even realise she has you, she has you – and you let her. Before you even have a chance to free yourself, she has you – and you let her. As she grows, her roots pushing deep in the earth, firmly planted and feeding off your negativity, your overwhelm, your stress, your anxiety, she takes you into her arms and she envelops you sending you into the dark. And you let her. YOU let her.
Teaching has taken over your life again. You promised yourself this year would be different but once again you find yourself so far under, suffocating under the weight of all that you do. You let it happen – again. And, deep down, you know it will happen again. And again. And again. It will continue to happen year in, year out until the culture of teaching changes – until you change. That needs to start with you. It needs to start with me. It needs to start with us. We can not control senior management and their demands. We cannot control the government and their demands – or the mess they have us in. We cannot control parents and their demands. We cannot control our students and their demands. There is so much we have little control over it’s no wonder so many of us are drowning in a job that once made our candles burn so bright. We can, however, control the demands we place on ourselves: You have control over your actions. You have control over your thoughts. You have control over your feelings. You have control when you choose to have control.
How are you going to take control back?
What do you do when you feel that little pit of anxiety building in your belly?
What do you do when you feel that overwhelm crushing your chest?
What do you do when you feel the weight of the world setting up camp on your shoulders?
What do you do when you when it all gets too much?
Will you push through because you think have to?
Will you push through because you can’t be seen to fail?
Will you push through because that is all you know?
Will you push through because the outcomes for your students is more important than your own wellbeing?
Will you hold your shit together till you get home and take it out on your family?
Will you work yourself into the ground only to cry in the bathroom?
Will you numb yourself with alcohol?
Will you lose sleep at night worrying about all you have to do tomorrow?
Will you say fuck it all and run?
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Learn to read your body – what is it telling you?
Listen to the whispers of your soul – What are you telling yourself?
Teaching is your job – it is not you.
Do not let it break you.
When you feel that little pit of anxiety building in your belly, or that overwhelm starts crushing your chest, or when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, you need to listen to your body. You need to stop. You need to breathe. You need to love yourself.
Set healthy boundaries.
Let this be the year you consciously take control.
Let this be the year you find some balance.
Let this be the year you ask for help before you drown.
Let this be the best year yet.
I’m on a mission.
We have to change the culture of teaching and I can’t do it without you.