Learning to Take Care of My Damn Self

Growing up I watched my very motivated father work his fingers to the damn bone. If there was a retake needed by a football player, he’d stay until 6 to give it to them. If a parent meeting needed to happen at 5 am or 9 pm, he’d make it happen. If he needed to learn Spanish or trombone to get the information across, he’d do it.

Every evening I watched him get home late and fall asleep minutes after sitting down. And every single school break I watched him get horribly sick and spend his time off recovering.

When I started teaching I promised myself I would find a way to work for my kids, to give them every chance I can, without burning myself out.

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I have been blessed with a team of co-workers who are caring and understanding, who always look out for me. My co-teacher tells me often to take care of myself. The beginning of every department meeting is either a self care check-in (where we talk about our specific self care goals and what we are doing to reach them this week) or a self care practice (Tai Chi, guided meditation, etc.) My Assistant Principal meets with me once a week to lesson plan/unit plan/revise curriculum/talk about what’s not working and how to fix it. My in-school mentor meets with me once a week to talk about literally anything I need help with.

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I’m supported, much more so than a lot of teachers. I’m lucky and I know it. But still I got caught with a case of ignoring my own needs.

Last Monday I got up at 4 and laid on my couch sobbing because my head was pounding so hard I couldn’t move. I called in sick but by noon the fever, headache and general ick was so bad I couldn’t stop crying.

I went to the clinic in the afternoon (I’ll be honest I went mostly because I wanted to be at work the following day) and found out I had a high fever, a sinus infection, and an ear infection.

My point is: don’t do this. Don’t let it get this bad. I was sick, really obviously sick and tried to push too hard through it and for what?

Americans especially have this notion that if you are not absolutely killing yourself at work, you’re lazy. I can’t say this enough times: that’s bullsh*t.

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In Peru, we would work from about 7- or am until lunch, go get lunch and take a nap or spend time with family, and then go back to work from 3 until 5 or 6. Yeah, that’s a three hour lunch. We also took 20-30 minutes breaks throughout the day to sit and talk.

At first I was torn apart by the difference and went to the go-to argument so many others have used (or at least thought in their head): well maybe if they worked more, their country would be more advanced. This, my friends, is also bullsh*t.

The reasons that many countries struggle has more to do with internal structure and corruption than with amount of hours worked. Hard work may be important, but worker bees working their buzzers off with no break  will not improve a country or a city or a workplace or a person.

I suppose the moral of the story is: put in the work, do whatever it is you do the best that you possibly can, but remember that half of being your best is treating yourself well. Work hard, self care hard.

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Best of luck.

Learning to Take Care of My Damn Self

A Teacher’s Schedule

2:00 am

Wake suddenly either from a half-baked nightmare where the students begin eating their homework instead of doing it and you’re blamed for endangering their safety, or due to a moment of panic about whether you’ve fully planned for tomorrow’s class (spoiler alert: you haven’t).

5:30 am

Wake again and wonder if you should maybe switch the third period jigsaw for a stations activity. Wonder if you should assign the essay earlier, if you should weave in more test prep for state testing next month, wonder if you’re getting enough sleep…

5:45 am

Give up on sleep, get up and get going. Review lessons while reviewing news for the day while replying to the emails you’ll never catch up on while attempting mascara.

7:20 am

Arrive at school, take a deep breath, try to let out said breath in something softer than a scream. Find hope, remember that you love them and your work.

8:19 am

Run around wildly trying to collect your things before going to first period. Forget your keys and wonder how time speeds up around the start of the day.

First Period

Teach and remember all the reasons you love your students. Because they are sweet and hilarious and great. Until one (or all) of them turn on you and put their heads down/curse you out/call you obscenities. Wonder why you do this. Run into that one kid who always makes you laugh while leaving class. Remember why you do this.

Prep

Walk to teacher’s lounge, stare at blank browser on laptop for a full twenty minutes. Ask other teachers if it’s just you, find that it isn’t. Begin writing lessons for next week, or maybe tomorrow, why are you never far enough ahead? Get excited about the lesson you’re writing and how the kids will respond.

Third Period

Teach, expecting chaos. Be pleased when none is thrown your way. Inspire students to make the world better with their intense greatness.

Lunch

Lead women’s study hall or regular study hall or maybe you’re in the gym today…? Receive hellos, hugs, high-fives from students. Answer questions. Tell students that coming to school on time/showing up for study hall/doing homework will make life easier in the long run. Smile.

Prep

Sigh, a lot, like you haven’t slept in days. Check your email while eating the lunch you packed last night. Ask other teachers for advice. Drink your fourth cup of coffee and say repeatedly it will be your last. Breathe and don’t forget to pee before class.

6th Period

Teach. Laugh. Get a little silly because it’s the end of the day and aren’t we all kind of losing it? Run out of staples. Show a video clip you thought they’d hate and find that they are actually engaged and interested. Do an activity you just knew they’d love and watch it fall apart.

7th Period

Teach. Teach like you are dragging yourself through the desert. So tired. Speak quietly so they’ll have to stop talking to hear you. Make a dumb joke and watch them try not to laugh. Remember that they are kids. Be proud of them while being irritated with their behavior. Watch the world stand still for a second while you take in this moment with these beautiful souls. Watch the room stand still for a second when someone knocks the pencil sharpener off the table. Call for a custodian. Tell them to have a wonderful afternoon.

After School

Get visits from students who struggled through your class last term. Perfect a jumping high-five with Pete. Chat with Jorge and Ally about their other classes. Yawn. Lesson plan for too long and then realize how late it is.

5:00 pm

Head home and hope you’ll get a little time to relax and maybe spend time with people who are not your coworkers or students.

5:45 pm

Arrive home because the subways were delayed. Stare at wall. Listen to Boyfriend who is also exhausted. Watch something on Netflix and eat dinner.

7:00 pm

Lesson plan, research, lesson plan, answer emails, wonder if your students are getting enough reading and writing practice, wonder if Elci’s father is still hospitalized, wonder if Franklin could get any more ELL supports for testing, wonder if you’re getting enough sleep.

10:00 pm

Try to get some sleep. Remember all the smiles and jokes and hugs. Love your students and your work fiercely and steel yourself to do it all again tomorrow.

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5 Things I’ve Learned in My First Month Teaching

I’ve officially been teaching now for over a month (6 weeks and 1 day, but who’s counting) and I learn something new everyday. I’ve had a bit of time to marinade on the big things, so I thought I’d share the top 5things I’ve learned on this magical adventure in exhaustion and joy.

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Being Authentically You Is Everything

I’m not the strict disciplinarian type, and I’m certainly not a cool kid. Struggling between getting control of my rowdiest class and wanting them to not hate me, I think I’ve finally found my own identity.

This is such a necessary thing, to be you, just you as a teacher. I can’t be really strict because it’s not who I am, I also can’t pretend to like everything my students like because that’s not who I am. At the end of the day, they seem to be a lot more open to me when I’m being who I am, not who I feel like I should pretend to be.

Lesson Planning is the Worst

About six months ago, when I was applying for jobs and doing demo lessons, I spent a solid two hours on a lesson plan and thought to myself “I’m going to have to get better at this.”

I’m starting from scratch on three different classes and trying to differentiate for four classes of kiddos. Turns out that means a lot of lesson planning. And no I’m not quick or efficient yet. But amen for google slides.

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A Good Department Team Can Save You

The history department at my school is small but fierce. We meet twice a week to discuss and plan and it’s cut out a lot of unnecessary double-planning because we’re able to share resources and ideas with each other.

In teaching, sharing is caring, and stealing is quite frankly the only way you’ll ever get it all done. Everyone needs another lesson idea and someone else out there has it to give to them.

Grad School No Longer Applies

I’ve learned some valuable things in my almost year at Columbia so far. The chief of these things however has not been curriculum mapping or school structures, it has been that teacher education programs are too far away from reality. I knew this but until I started teaching and learning at the same time, I didn’t realize how impressive the distance.

Doing a teacher preparation program while full time teaching is like working at Starbucks while talking classes about the chemical make up of each variety of coffee. Sure it’s interesting and might be useful one day, but no one taught me how to make a latte, so I’ll just be over here burning the hell out of my hands while I try to teach myself.

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When Things Go Sideways, There’s Still Love

I’m amazed at how deeply I already care about my students. They are some of the funniest, kindest, strongest people I know. Do they drive me bonkers sometimes? Of course. But I want everything for them.

A couple of weeks ago there was a physical fight in my room. It escalated quickly but eventually it was contained. Truth be told, I’d been waiting for some big thing like this to happen. My mistake was thinking that I would be irritated or annoyed at the students involved. In reality I stayed up worrying about them: what would their punishment be? Were they ok? Had anyone stopped and talked them through their thoughts and feelings?

The students are fine now and things will be getting back to normal soon, but it struck me that even in the worst scenarios, there’s always love.

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So, that’s basically how you teach. As you can tell, I’m totally an expert now. Or something…Either way, I’d love to hear/read your thoughts, particularly from any current, previous, or future teachers.

Best of luck.

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A Story and A Favor

Let me delight you with a story.

Remember high school? Oh man, that was a silly, awkward, weird time. Now imagine high school in a small school when your father is the principal. Now imagine that he is a generally quite loud and a “dad joke” kind of individual.

Yeah.

My freshman year of high school I had a pretty good friend, Sean. I say “pretty good” not because he was a sub-par friend but because we weren’t super close yet.*

We were all in pep band and one winter evening we were playing at a basketball game. Naturally we played during half time, but had the third quarter off to frolic around, eat snacks and engage in mischief.

This particular night, Sean and I decided to go outside into the chill and have a snowball fight. It was all fun and games until my father, who, let’s remember, was the principal of our school and who Sean did not know very well at this point, and who was also sitting in his office which looked out on the location of our impromptu snowball fight, decided to cut in. Continue reading