I have heard people often say “if you love what you do, you won’t feel stressed.” Are you kidding me? The challenges I have faced this school year has definitely thrown this saying out the window! It just isn’t true for me. Those of us in education know exactly how stressful our profession is, even under the best of circumstances. We must be “on stage”—engaging and gregarious in front of our scholars—all the time. Our work responsibilities (and apprehensions) spill over into our personal lives. All too often, we’re working without the resources or support we need to really do our job well. NEA Today wrote a wonderful article entitled, How Do Educators Handle Work-Related Stress? In this article, the manager of programs at NEA’s Health Information Network wrote, “Educators go into the profession because they care very deeply about the work they do and the results they strive to see in their students…When you care that deeply, you’re going to feel it.” Well, I definitely felt it these past few months. Teaching is indeed my passion and I love every minute of it, but my district and my school, over the past few months, had to deal with some major shake-ups; the good news is we all survived and we’re currently persevering, both students and staff. On my campus, we are trying to get back to some type of normalcy, but through it all, I was able to turn to my reliable 3 F’s (my faith, my family and my friends).
In my journey as a teacher, this has not been my first setback; however, even with my support system, it was the first time that I started to question if I could continue in this profession (a profession that I love with all of my heart and soul). For the first time, I had to stop and reflect on how I was going to handle this situation and not let it break me. During this turbulent time, I started to research and write down some coping strategies to help me manage my stress, and not stress managing me. I knew I needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps; my scholars were counting on me. I guess that’s one of the positive things that came out of all of this: I was able to dialogue with myself on how I could still enjoy coming to work every day. When work life hurled a bottomless pit of lemons at me, I made some delicious lemonade and told myself I was not going let anything get me down!
I now have some new tools in my toolkit that I can use if and when (I hope never) I find myself facing such a crazy whirlwind of a storm again. I’m also hoping my experience and how I came out of it can help others who too find themselves drowning in stress and feeling hopeless:
- When the situation was at its worse, once I got home, I disconnected from any and all school-related technology (emails, text messaging etc.)
In order for me to maintain some type of sanity, I had to stop reading my work emails at home. This was easy because I didn’t have any email notifications coming from my phone; it was not linked to my email account. However, I would be at home in the evening and my phone would be vibrating like crazy; I was receiving tons of text messages about what was happening at work. Most of the time it was things that could wait, but I would see the messages and think “oh I should probably respond to this really quick” which wasn’t always quick… and before you know it my evening time was more about answering work-related text messages. So, I flipped my phone over, cut the sound completely off, and I tried my very best to only check my messages just once before bedtime (in case my family was trying to get a hold of me). Now, I am definitely more mindful of not bringing work stress home with me.
- I did not suffer in silence; I sought help and reached out to a very close confidante
I mentioned this point in a previous blog: Teachers often suffer in silence and they build up walls because they are afraid of asking for help in fear that they may appear to look weak. It can be really difficult to admit you need help, and even harder to get yourself to schedule a counseling session or talk to a close colleague, especially when depression and anxiety are overshadowing your judgment and stealing your joy. It’s important in this profession that we find a buddy teacher that we trust and can share our thoughts with. My support system, especially my church, became my biggest resource and got me through this difficult time.
- Rest! Rest and More Rest!
I am shocked that I can honestly include this because I am one of those people that use to work 7 days a week and never took any time to rejuvenate or decompress. I am a major night owl and, at times, I have trouble sleeping. Sleep is not always my friend, except in the morning when I really just want to stay in bed longer. However, I have become so much better at this. I am now going to bed no later than 9:45ish and every Sabbath (from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) I rest, read my Bible and I unplug. Wow! Words cannot express how much better I feel and how much it has helped me get through this challenging time in my life. I am now doing so much better at winding down each night, giving myself a bedtime, and turning off my teacher brain (but sometimes it wins and I find myself thinking about my scholars well past my bedtime). We all know that a tired, burnt out teacher simply isn’t effective. During this time, I was worn out, suffering from massive headaches and definitely quite irritable; rest and sleep was my cure! We all need those all too important miracle zzzzzzs!
- I enjoyed my scholars! Nothing mattered more
This, for me, was the most important thing; it put everything I was going through back into proper perspective. When my world was being turned upside down, my scholars made it all better. I realized what was truly important, and as long as they were going to be okay, I was going to be okay too. When things at work became extremely chaotic and all I wanted to do was bury myself underneath a rock, all I needed to do was remember my scholars and all the joy they brought me! Sometimes all we needed was a good class laugh and my silly voices to take a stormy day and turn it into some much-needed sunshine. I found moments to just be with my scholars and enjoy them for who they are. Nothing else mattered. Life was good for those 55 minutes each day; I could close my door, block out the madness around me and just enjoy my scholars.
I love teaching; it’s a wonderful profession. It’s my heart, my world, and my everything, but for a while, I almost lost it all. I am so grateful I was able to recover and throw my hat back into the ring. It truly takes special people to be teachers. This storm has not completely passed, but I have my protective gear on, and I’m going to continue to slowly wade through the turbulent waters. I want to keep my joy for teaching and enjoy my time with my scholars, so I am going to continue to reflect on this experience and learn and grow from it.
Are you currently dealing with a highly stressful, volatile situation? How are you coping?