The Broken Teacher Re-focused

Donnie Dicus Uncategorized

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Teaching is easy! Teachers get 9 weeks off for the summer, two weeks off around the winter holidays, a week in spring and maybe a week in the fall. Teachers also get at least 7 other holidays off sprinkled throughout the year. In addition, most districts give at least 2 personal days a year and around 10 sick days. How can teachers complain about their job being stressful?!
If you believe this, you are WRONG!!!!! Teaching is consistently rated as one of the most stressful careers. (Insert link to research). Jess Leddbetter and Treva Jenkins have both recently wrote their opinions about the stresses of teaching. Teaching has broken many teachers and we need to find ways to keep that from happening.
I’ve shared my story before but it’s necessary to share again to show how I got to where I am today. I taught for 8 years in Tucson before the stresses of the job broke me and forced me to leave the classroom. I couldn’t handle the workload. I couldn’t manage my finances. I couldn’t manage my time because I had to work a second job to make ends meet. I couldn’t manage my relationships because I didn’t have time to spend with anyone. I had health issues which impacted my finances. I was broke, sick, and single. So I quit. After I quit, I had so much time to focus on myself. I got a gym membership and lost weight which helped to improve my health. I had time to vacation with friends. I also got a job which allowed me to put commas in both my checking account AND my savings account. I began to see my credit card debt shrink drastically. I found many new hobbies. For the first time in eight years, every area of my life was improving. My health, wealth, and relationships were all on the upswing. The only area I was dissatisfied in was my career. I missed the satisfaction I felt when I was in the classroom with my students so I decided to return to teaching.
When I returned, I knew that things could not continue the way did my first eight years. Therefore, I made some changes to help manage the stress.
1. I only stay late once a week. My contract time is until 3:30. Most days I stay until 4. One day a week, I will stay past 4 to get work done. My time is valuable and I need to treat it as such.
2. On holidays, my work bag stays at school. Holidays are meant to spend with families and friends. They are meant to celebrate traditions. They are not meant for grading papers or planning lessons. Friends and family are my priority during holidays.
3. Two nights a week, I will bring work home that can be done in front of Netflix in my pajamas with a glass of “soda”. The work is less frustrating when I am in a relaxing environment.
4. I plan time for my hobbies and I do not let any work take that time away. When I wake up on Saturdays, I spend time in my bed with my coffee reading my comics, whatever book I am reading that month, or watching a movie or television show that I enjoy. On Sundays, I play kickball which helps to keep me active. All of these things help to get my mind on other things which are important to reducing stress.
These may seem like minor changes. However, they allowed me more time to enjoy my friends and family. They allowed me time to relax. These changes helped to create a balance between my work and personal life. I learned that it is crucial that I take time to focus on me to ensure that I am effective in my classroom. These changes will help to keep me in the classroom for many years. If I knew how to manage my stress during my first eight years, maybe I never would have left the classroom. Maybe if a struggling teacher can learn from my experience, then another teacher may decide to stay in the profession. With the number of teachers shrinking, something needs to change and these changes are a good place to start. What other changes do you think would help a teacher?


Donnie Dicus

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Donnie Dicus and I have been teaching in Arizona for 12 years. I came to Arizona from Southern Illinois to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson. I graduated in 2003 and began teaching second grade. I taught second grade in Tucson for 8 years before moving to Phoenix. I now teach third grade. I achieved National Board Certification in 2012 and I received my Master's Degree from Grand Canyon University in 2015. I achieved a National Board Certificate in Middle Childhood Generalist in 2012. I’ve been teaching mainstream and SEI 3rd grade classrooms in the Cartwright School District in Phoenix since 2013. I taught 2nd grade and was a math interventionist in Tucson in the Amphitheater School District. I’ve been a technology coach and have helped teachers apply technology to improve instruction. I facilitate coaching cohorts for teachers going through the National Board process and organize peer groups at my site to pair new teachers with experienced teachers. In 2010 I was nominated as a Rodel Semi-Finalist for Exemplary teaching in 2010 and featured as a Teacher Leader in February 2016 by the Arizona K12 Center. I have class pictures of every single student I have taught behind my desk on my wall. After 12 years, that is approximately 350 students. My students know that this is my Wall of Accomplishments. I am so proud of the difference I made in their lives. I became a teacher to make a difference and I strive to do so every day.

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Comments 11

  1. Sandy Merz

    Teaching is hard but like you show with your own changes the work-life balance can be achieved. I wish there was more professional development related to work-flow management. I’ve attended one and have read a lot of books on the matter that have taught me some simple techniques and attitudes – some using technology, some in daily professional practice, and some in disposition that have made a huge difference in lowering the stress, keeping things in perspective, and getting things done.

  2. Christine Porter Marsh

    I love #2. I am not sure when I started not grading (etc) during the holidays, but I know it wasn’t for my first decade of teaching. Having a true break is important to me, and I think it’s one of the small things that helps me stay in this profession for the long haul.

  3. Jen Robinson

    Thanks for sharing your story, Donnie. I wonder if your first 8 years needed to happen so you could share your story and ideas to reduce stress from work?? Your strategies are right on and pretty simple. We as educators just need to do it, make time for ourselves and our lives outside of education.

  4. Angela Buzan

    This line: “I was broke, sick, and single” reverberated for me. I’ve been there. That kind of exhausted loneliness aches even in memory. It uniquely summarizes all of my fears about staying in the profession– a fear of losing everything in a strange quest to help everyone.

    1. Jen Robinson

      Hi Angela-
      Thanks for sharing your reflections, “A fear of losing everything in a strange quest to help everyone.” This rings true for so many of us.

  5. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    I could totally relate to this. The work-life balance lessons that teachers must learn are hard-won. When you are in your early 20’s you don’t really see the sacrifices the same way you see them as your health changes, family ages or grows, and finances take on more significance as we seek stability such as home ownership, travel, reliable cars or at least lack of short-term debt. The reality of these needs probably doesn’t hit home for most 25 year olds. But eventually, IF we want to stay in the profession, we have to come to terms with our limitations and the value of the quality of life we experience on a daily/weekly basis. We have to stop romanticizing the ideal of the teacher-martyr and get real.

  6. Angelia

    Thank you so much for sharing your life balance changes in order to prolong the life of your education career. I remember the day my husband looked at me as I loaded my “teacher bag” in the car for yet another family outing and said “I thought you were with us this weekend?” He had never said anything (out loud) like that before in our 7 years of marriage. It was amazing to see how my commitment was making him feel. Same with my daughter, she would beg me to leave my bag at school or in the car. It makes a big difference.

    I appreciate you sharing your schedule with us. The only challenge I found with a self-schedule at work, was that inevitably I would have to tell a peer “no” or become unavailable during my time at work. It was so hard to stick to what I needed to do when I stayed at work or came in early to get things done. I found that if I went “dark”, lights off door locked, I could do what I needed to do and focus on my priorities.

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      Hahah! I love the “going dark” idea. Maybe I should start to appreciate that my classroom lights automatically shut off if they don’t sense me moving around–something that drives me absolutely NUTS when I’m there working after school hours. I think I’ll smile next time that happens!

  7. Jess Ledbetter

    These points are great advice for any new teacher in the field! Developing limits is the best strategy for any teacher who wants to make teaching a profession instead of a short blip on a resume :)

  8. Treva Jenkins

    Thank you Donnie for this post. It’s the little things that makes the greatest impact in our lives and gets us through the tough times. Since I started keeping the Sabbath (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown), it has truly made a world of difference (no school work, no cell phones, no cares of this world) a complete shutdown of the distractions of this life. Not only am I a better teacher for it, I am a better human!!

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