Calm in the Storm

Frantic or Calm? Make It Your CHOICE

Jess Ledbetter Uncategorized

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Do you ever feel a bit overwhelmed and frantic? If you are an educator, my guess is you said YES! Sadly, these feelings have become “normal” in our profession. We race around each day with little time to eat or go to the bathroom. We even make jokes about it! We cart home buckets of work for evenings and weekends. We postpone visits with doctors and trips to the gym. We even miss events with friends and family at busy times of the year. Put simply: Teachers don’t get much time for wellness.

This is my 13th year teaching. Work has always spilled into my personal life. For the most part, I’ve been able to find a balance that I could justify. (Read: Sometimes I work much more than I should, but I feel like the work is important enough to give up my time). I know that a lot of professions require people to work beyond their 40-hour work week. And I soothe myself with mantras about how the kids are worth it. Really, they are. It’s just that teachers are tired, overworked, and underpaid for the work they do.

This year, the ground dropped out. My second child was born in March and there simply isn’t personal time for working at home anymore. Imagine the horror! I still drag my cart of stuff home, but I usually drag all the work back to school the next day. Is this the Twilight Zone or something? These first two months of school have been like a frantic sprint up Mount Everest wearing a swimsuit in a snowstorm. I’ve been struggling because I care about providing excellent instruction—and I also love my family. To keep up with all my work and home responsibilities, I have given up sleep. Lots of sleep.

Then last week, I was sitting in a Professional Development about teaching emotional self-regulation to kids. Essentially, this is about controlling your feelings/actions and remaining calm no matter what is happening around you. It was a great PD and I was really dialed in. The presenter talked about how kids are more focused on learning when they are regulated and connected in a caring community. We talked about how kids feel and respond when they are dysregulated: distracted, anxious, and emotional. LIGHTBULB. These words were describing my feelings so far this year. Was I dysregulated? And if so, what actions could I take to improve my emotional well-being so I could be calm, focused, and flexible in my daily life?

I think dysregulation can be common for teachers. The more I think about it, the more I see the cycles I’ve experienced over my career. And there are plenty of reasons to be dysregulated. Last year, I wrote about the lack of time teachers reported in the 2017 TELL AZ survey results. I’ve written about the declining health of teachers. I see colleagues writing about large class sizes (Mike Vargas), the teacher shortage (Jaime Festa-Daigle), the struggle to implement new school programs (Amethyst Hinton-Sainz), and the fears of failure (Jen Hudson). As educators, there are many opportunities to get dysregulated as we tackle our responsibilities and face many obstacles that are beyond our control or prediction.

For me, using these terms “regulated” and “dysregulated” have been empowering. No one wants to call themselves “dysregulated” (even though we don’t mind calling ourselves “busy” or “stressed out”). Instead of accepting my feelings like they are part of the job, I’m being intentional about being regulated. I started thinking about how I want to feel in my classroom—and then I am choosing to feel that way no matter what other challenges come along. I’ve thought about strategies that help me get back to a regulated state as well. And overall, I’m feeling so much better at work and at home.

The bottom line is that teachers are a very important part of the classroom environment. Choosing the way we act and interact with others is more important than arranging desks or decorating bulletin boards. Kids are always learning from us. So being regulated is very important. We want kids to see us being calm, organized, and flexible because we want them to be calm, organized, and flexible. Teachers need to be the example. And we also need this calm state of mind to notice the small details about student learning.

So if you are feeling dysregulated at this busy time of year, you might want to read about self-regulation strategies. Perhaps you will brainstorm a list of strategies that calm you or read ideas from others about stress reduction for teachers. Seriously, you deserve it. And perhaps you will consider teaching self-regulation to your students so they learn to control their thinking and actions. They deserve it, too.

What are some things you already do to help yourself feel regulated? What are some things that make you feel dysregulated and what do you do to get past them? I’m looking forward to your comments. I’ll be adding some of my own ideas below as well!

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I teach preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. I am a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. I earned my doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU. My research explored how early career special education teachers collaborated with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms. I believe all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. I am passionate about National Board Certification, mentoring early career teachers, improving teacher retention, elevating teacher voice, and collaborating with a network of courageous educators who passionately advocate for kids and schools. I believe that real-life stories from our schools should inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities. Therefore, I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my stories here. I welcome your comments on my blog posts and hope that we can advance the dialogue together.

Comments 6

  1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

    I spent the weekend in Sedona with my meditation loving daughter. We visited vortexes and went for sound healing (highly recommend). But I spent much of my last day focused back at school and feeling anxious and I could feel my connection with my own child being lost. I remember those days when I was not connected with my 150 kids in civics class. How important is it for us as teachers to be able to be present in order to help kids be present? And that means working in environments that are healthy and taking the time to take care of ourselves. Realistically, sound healing is not always accessible, but some deep breaths and essential oils are always close at hand.

  2. Treva Jenkins

    Great article Jess!! I keep the Bible Sabbath, so from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, I “unplug” and I read the Bible and I just rest, rest, rest. No news, no cell phones, no work stresses. It has totally changed my life Jess. I was one of those individuals that maintained a frantic, chaotic life. I would never a take time out to relax, decompress and just take care of me. I was definitely a workaholic. Keeping the Bible Sabbath has allowed me to be a much more effective teacher and an overall better human being. We cannot underestimate the power of rest on the mind and body. There is a calmness that comes over me every Sabbath that is just so hard to put into words, but I have certainly felt the difference in my mental and physical health.

  3. Jen Hudson

    I swear I’ve read this piece at least three times since you posted it (and it has only been two days). I keep coming back to it and the importance behind the idea of rest and consciously choosing emotionally self-regulating behaviors. Teachers in our district are currently in the last week of the academic quarter and I can see the emotions behind each of their eyes (and my own, when I look in the mirror). I think a lot of this stress comes from being dysregulated and societal expectation of being ‘busy’ but being able to ‘handle it.’ I can’t wait to share this article and the amazing research you’ve collected with my teachers.

  4. Caitlin Corrigan

    Overwhelmed and frantic seem to be two emotions that teachers have become accustomed to feeling, which is sad! Now that I’m in my 7th year teaching, I have found better ways to deal with these feelings. I’ve found that the overwhelmed feeling usually comes up about once a month or so, usually around when progress reports or report cards need to go home, and as soon as I felt overwhelmed I would immediately feel frantic! The way I cope with the overwhelmed feeling now is prioritizing tasks – and I immediately drop everything that isn’t essential. It was hard getting used to not doing all the things all the time, but in the long run it has been so helpful.

  5. Rachel Perugini

    This semester has been the most frantic of my career thanks to some non-school related things. I’ve had to prioritize better, focus on what I can accomplish, and use my resources better. My TAs certainly got busier when I realized I don’t have to do all my prep on my own. My biggest saving thought is that the crazy will subside (a little) on November 3rd. But, this article made me think that I can do a little more to keep my calm during the week. I shouldn’t have to remind myself when the craziness will stop to push through it all. I can tackle things a little better so I can have a more relaxing week than usual.

  6. Sandy Merz

    More and more I’m realizing that Teacher Anger Management is about the best classroom management tool there is. If a student is messing around and not responding to anything I’m trying, I can usually get at least a 20% reduction in the misbehavior. If I blow up, I’ll probably get a 20% increase in it. Now I’m talking about the most difficult cases. But I’d rather go home having improved a little and piece of mind than go home having made things worse and mad. That’s what your piece made me think.

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