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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I’m (finally) a Teacher

I’m sitting on the 2 leaving Brooklyn, over the bridge and into Manhattan. The bustling hipsters change places with suits who mix in with the common folk as we move north. I’ve had a stupid smile on my face for half an hour. I’m not even using headphones, which makes people glance at me like I’m a crazy person.

I just saw my classroom. The one I’ll be teaching in. Mine. My classroom. It has four windows that overlook the courtyard, it has an old chalkboard I’ll cover with paper and a new smart board I’ll cover with confusion and intrigue. It has a TV mounted low on the wall for the use of a previous video game club. It has bookshelves and beanbags and potential.

The principal asked me if I need anything else, any other supplies. All I can think is: how could I ask for more when you’ve given me all I’ve ever needed. Except students, I’ll need them too. I’m waxing poetic and I know it and I don’t care. She just laughed and tells me I’ll be issued a laptop later in the summer.

We talked for a while about curriculum and schedules and mentors and she reminded me several times that I don’t need to remember everything, there will be time to learn it all. I don’t care, I’m just happy to be given so much information. Maybe I’ll be scared later but I’m elated right now. I’m a teacher. For real this time.

As we exited the building, I said thank you again and walk down the street.

Who do I call?

Dad. My father has been an educator for my entire life plus many more years. He’s hiring his own teachers for next year, he told me about the young social studies teacher whose personal statement sounded like mine.

I told him I just saw my classroom, mine, my classroom and it has four windows and I’m teaching civics and US history and I have a smart board and my principal is great. I breathed it all out in one breath and found myself gasping in the 95 degree, 95% humidity July air. I heard him smiling over the phone.

I’m sitting on the subway and I can’t stop smiling. I know there’s hell coming between government bureaucracy, students failed by the system and the burnout of balancing teaching and grad school.

I don’t care. I can’t stop smiling because I’m finally a teacher.

When Your Boss is Kind of a Tool

When I typed that title I initially wrote “wool” instead of “tool” and had this skit play out in my head where I tried to have an intelligent work debate with a sweater.

Actually, that doesn’t seem far off…

I’m not going to go into the issues I’m having at work right now because it’s probably not smart, healthy or that interesting. I can tell you that my boss is a bit difficult and I would very much like a vacation.

I also can’t tell you what to do when your boss is a being a jerk, not really. However I have mentioned how to handle troubling work relationships before.

What I can tell you is what hasn’t been working for me:

  • Acting like a Child (including but not limited to stomping, silent treatment, yelling, door slamming)
  • Picking every single battle as the BATTLE ROYALE!
  • Saying something is ok when it is not
  • Ignoring issues
  • Crying quietly in my office
  • Complaining every day to my coworkers, friends, family members, and to Boyfriend
  • Saying “I don’t think I’m going to stay here” or alternatively “I’m walking out” or “I’ll just go work at (Starbucks/Target/The Mall)”
  • Throwing pens
  • Making faces while on the phone with the boss
  • Passive Aggressiveness

I’ll update you all as things move forward but for now, here’s to the bored, the annoyed, the overqualified and under-challenged and anyone else struggling with dum-dums. Here’s to you, wonderful workers!

Best of luck!