I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Moving Forward

First, the popular saying was, "We got this!" Hah! Um, no. We didn't have this.

That was soon been replaced with "We'll come through this stronger."

I doubted this at first, as I found myself truly breaking down on the first Friday of remote teaching, September 4th. I remember it well, as I hadn't broken down like that since one memorable day during the year I got my divorce (and was still living in that house). Some of us would NOT come out of this stronger. Some of us would quit. Some would be forced to take a leave. Some would retire early.

Now, it's November 15th. It's been eight months since our schools shut down on March 13th. I've been through what I thought was the toughest teaching ever - remote / online teaching. After I got into the swing of things, I was thrown into what I thought was the toughest teaching ever - hybrid teaching. I'm kind of - sort of - maybe getting into the swing of things once again. I think it's partly due to my true commitment to my own mental and physical health that I've needed to do the last couple of months.

Reading this recent post from Annick Rauch, it brought me back to my fears that now, more than ever, there will be some people who do not come out of this stronger. I have peers who are given more work than ever this year, and there simply isn't enough time to complete it all. Truly. I have peers who have to make no-win decisions about their job. We are in a pandemic. Many of our own families and those we serve have been upended due to work (or lack thereof), sickness (or even death), and compounded stress. We all have different problems and privileges on our plates, and as Annick pointed out, all of our plates are different to begin with. We cannot compare problems. Our paths we've been on and supports we are able to access are so very different.

I attended a webinar from Mandy Froelich on Tuesday evening, and I've heard much of what she's shared before, but some of it is sticking this week. I've been fairly mentally healthy the rest of the week due to what is sticking. Here are my quick notes from her webinar (if you'd like more, check out her site - I'm thinking of signing up for her free course, as well):

  • You are the catalyst for your own engagement.
  • We're future thinkers. In the pandemic, we're in a constant reaction mode instead of being able to be pro-active.
  • You HAVE to be focused on something else (for me, it's mental and physical health).
  • One solution for demoralization is to rediscover your identity and/or get involved with a passion project or advocacy. (This summer, for me, it was to build the Antiracist LiveBinder. The past two weeks, it's been learning how to post to TikTok.)
  • Find JOY - find what helps you stay afloat. (I've found it's engaging with the kids. I'm learning about Among Us and TikTok and gaming vernacular.)
  • When the pandemic hit, some teachers had already 1) started self-care and had really well-developed boundaries  2) some parts of teaching were student-directed learning  3) had an interest or a willingness to try new technology ... it was easier for these teachers to bounce back a bit to how they taught before the pandemic. We're not going to be the same people, because we've learned (post-traumatic growth). Resilience means we love the person we're going to become AFTER adversity.

I felt it was time for me to post what I, personally, am doing that is helping me, personally, move forward and become the person I want to be. Maybe these are actual directions for me to go back to when I dip low once again (I'm betting it'll happen - it's how life goes), and maybe ONE thing on this list will strike you as something you feel you could try.

  • Eat well. This includes adding fun snacks once in a while.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Keep up with hygiene - teeth, hair, body.
  • Head to sleep at a consistent time each night.
  • Don't look at tech at least an hour before bed.
  • Limit my time on social media.
  • Don't look at work email after 3:15 or on the weekends. (I admit, sometimes I sneak a peek. I do this FOR my mental health. The times I'm feeling good think I can handle bad news, I look.)
  • Get out in nature.
  • Be present in each moment.
  • If I feel a need to complain, do it quickly, and then share something positive. (My thoughts from a year ago that I need to re-read are here.)
  • Avoid toxic people. 
  • Choose to ignore or address negative comments, then let them go. Don't provide them the space in your brain. Replace it with something you're grateful for (such as... I'm grateful I don't have to live with this person.)
  • Let go of guilt. It's over. Learn from mistakes.
  • Play.
  • Make time for your hobbies.
  • Practice gratitude often. (My posts about gratitude are here.) Mandy reminded us that our brains will do what we practice. While we have positive thoughts, the negative thoughts can't be there. It will take time, but we can change the way our brain functions.
  • Read. Read other perspectives. Read fiction and nonfiction. Notice the problems others face, and realize you're not alone. Notice how others have persevered.
  • Care for others. Do a good deed. Be an ear and listen with intent to truly hear. Ask questions about someone else's life without responding about your own.
  • Leave early enough to not be rushed in the morning. This way, I can drive at my own pace and not worry about those in a hurry.
  • Find, and take time to document, what's going WELL. (My post a month after I broke down here.)
  • Do not take any opportunity unless you KNOW it will be helpful. (My reasoning is here.)
  • Be consistent in my own care for myself. (My post about consistency is here.)
I can only do so much. In 2018, I started reading self-help education books. I wanted to survive until it was time to retire. 

Since reading Essentialism this last September, I've had ONE priority: Take care of my mental and physical health. It has taken root, because I've needed it to work in order to keep walking into my school building each day. I've been consistent about it. Everything I'm asked to do, or everything I think of doing, I think first, "Will this help or hinder my mental and/or physical health?" And then I do what HELPS me. 

I want to survive this. I want to thrive again some day. 
As Hubby taught me years ago, "You know what's right. It's an easy decision." 
I will do my part.

Two of my hobbies - nature + photography.
This was taken a few years ago at Morton Arboretum and it's how I feel these days - upside down, but kind of balanced and kind of happy - doing what I can with what I have.