Note: This post starts off on a dour note, but it's my intention to write this to help educators through this year. If you keep reading until the end, you may stand a bit taller in the coming weeks. This post is for US.
I heard from a teacher friend as our week ended that I am "a barometer of the school" of sorts. I took it to mean, "If Joy isn't good, what does that mean for me?" I heard whispers of this in January, as well, from another colleague. It took me about a month to recover from January's events. That's when I took the time to write about how I turned the corner - again. We had another blow to our staff this past month, as we thought we were going to continue with one thing that's been working all year, and it was suddenly pulled out from under our feet. I wonder if those that make the decisions realize that if the staff does not do well, the students feel the effects, if not directly. I wonder if they know that with each new decision, teachers need to switch up so much of what they'd planned on doing. Again. And it's no simple matter. And we worry about ALL of our students. And it changes how we teach, not for the better this year. (And PLEASE stop saying, "Our teachers are so flexible.")
So... educators around me are struggling once again, with the newest demand put upon us before this pandemic school year closes. How do I help colleagues? Some have said that it's not my job, and that's true. When I have a colleague who reaches out and says, "Joy, how are YOU holding up?" I feel I need to tell them what I'm doing to keep one arm out of the swamp that is this school year. And now that I'm documenting it one time, I can refer others to what (sometimes) works for me. At the start of this school year, I read Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and since then, I've had ONE priority: My health (mental and physical). Everything I do this year revolves around this. Taking the time to write, organize, and share this post helps me with my mental health, for sure. I truly hopes it helps readers, as well.
I listen. A few tears may collect for both of us. They need to know it's okay to share and cry.
I'm honest. I share that this year is the toughest one I've ever had, too. That I'm also worried about our kids that are remote (and don't respond to invites to participate, emails, or even me staring into the camera calling their name). That I, too, am not able to do all I want with the in-person students who are constantly seeking our attention. That I, too, cannot control students on their games, when they get closer than the three feet the desks are at, or when they complain about the game I chose. I agree that it feels as if hardly any of my plans go well, and the lessons are not as impactful as in the past. I let them know that I, too, see that some come to school to learn, but many students this year come to school just to be around other kids. And I, too, sometimes just let them ... be. That sometimes our mask breaks are a little over the four-minute passing period time. That when I do just let them BE, some classes can't handle it - they get loud and rowdy and obnoxious and forget we're in a pandemic, and I have to backtrack. That some days I feel that nothing went well, and I failed my students.
I've also shared that I'm stricter in some instances - and I say "no" without explanation sometimes. Sometimes I let students know I'm doing something (like playing this particular song) for ME. Sometimes I sit in the hallway (in the middle of classtime) with an upset student who ends up crying and then regrouping. Sometimes I leave the class reading independently - just so I can run to the restroom. Yup. I'm not doing what I've done in the past. And I let my colleagues know that I believe it's okay. No one knows how to do this job better than us this year. We're doing the best we can with what we have. We need to take care of ourselves before we can care for the myriad students that flow in and out of our door each day.
It took me most of this school year, but I am now resigned to the fact that it's okay for me to not be the teacher I've been working so hard to become. This is due to at least these three reasons:
- I'm not the same person I was pre-COVID. I realized last April that I needed to stop worrying about "my kids," because they really are NOT my kids. Some have one parent, some have two, and some even have four. It's the same now. The parent is the first in line to help our students. I only have my students for 80 minutes a day. It's not all on ME. I am NOT the parent. I canNOT do everything.
- Teachers have been put into circumstances they never imagined would happen. No one could prepare us for this. Changes come quickly, and we're expected to adapt just as quickly. And we step up and try our best. But... we feel it in our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. We feel it's not enough. The fact is, we're giving it ALL we've got. So it has to be enough.
- We're not in control of what's been put on us. When it feels as if nothing we do or say matters, we get knocked down. Again. And again. It's like an abusive relationship. And we stay in it, because we still love the children.
- It's okay to feel how we do. It's normal during this time. You are not alone. Come talk to me; I'll listen and empathize with you. I've learned how to not bring your problems home with me (secondary traumatic stress).
- Do something you love - something that fulfills you - outside of school. Find a passion or hobby or two that you used to do. Something that makes you happy. (Keep your immunity up.)
- Know that you matter. Every year. Your love for the children is shining through, no matter how strict you are this year, no matter that you're tethered to the laptop and can't see or hear what's going on in front of you... You matter.
- Set one intention for yourself for the next day, week, or month (if it's working well). Multitasking is too difficult right now. What's ONE thing you can do to help yourself?
- Drink water.
- I am healthy. Those I love are healthy.
- I have a job with insurance.
- I am enough.
- I am fair, and I am kind.
- Use a quiet voice. (That way my students will listen more.)
- Use wait time.
- Stand up straight. (I slouch WAY too much.)
- Don't complain.
- Right here. Right now. Is all that matters.
- What's good about this right now?
- Connect with one student.
- Soak up this moment. Notice all that is around me.
- No social media.
- Stop ruminating. Act. Do something for yourself.
- What am I learning in this moment right now?
- This is temporary. (This is mine for this coming week.)