Eighteen years ago I wrote this post to the moretprs listserv. It is a response to a teacher named Teresa and it is somewhat personal, but at this time of the year, everything seems a bit personal. Or at least we take things personally…too little sun for many people, too little time for ourselves, giving too much to others. I’m sharing in case anyone here could use it:
I have read this several times Teresa…and can identify with everything you have said. My heart goes out to you. Teaching is cyclical. We all have moments of great joy and great frustration, enthusiasm..and yes..even boredom. We are subjected to cycles of professional interest…Madeleine Hunter, Mastery Learning…and professional change, department members , heads, administrators..and the like…..we experience years whenthe students make sense and connect..and others when we hope our children never turn out like that..and wonder if we are older than we feel….Life also…moves ahead on its own cycle.
Those of us who started teaching young, and fresh out of college, jumped in with nothing else to distract us. We happily took on those jobs we were told “came with the position”, be they coaching, student council, advisorships, etc. We felt privileged to be asked. (A lovely but naive thought :o)) We saw them as wonderful opportunities to bond with students and become a part of the school and community. Teaching was our life!!! And then Life creeps in: spouses, children, mortgages, family crisises, parents’ illnesses…perhaps our own. With as many joys and sorrows as our teaching life…but all drawing on the same emotional account. And for some reason, here we are 7, 12, 18 years later, wondering why we have become exhausted and jaded. Why we don’t feel like we are good at anything….teaching,counseling, advising, parenting,bill-paying,house-cleaning,exercising,friendships, relationships, or…anything. And how could we be? Why should we feel we have to be?
My personal life has taken a turn in the past two years which has hadin irreversible effect on my teaching. On one hand, I have not been as”effective” in many areas as I once was…or hope to be again. (parental contact, correcting, professional committees, advising etc.) On the other hand…in letting go of some things I thought were “essential”, I have found areas of greater depth of focus than I ever thought possible. Yes, my teaching has had a much different effect on my students…and a better one in many ways. Without going into anything personal , let me share the insights I have received. They have come from my own thoughts and perceptions, and also those of my students, their parents, my colleagues,and friends. Maybe you will find some inspiration in them as I did.
A) CONTRARY TO PUBLIC OPINION, WE ARE NOT WHAT WE DO.
This is a myth. Perpetuated by overachievers and carried on by those of us with a great
capacity for guilt. Your worth is not determined by the number of activities you advise, the amount of papers you correct, nor even the hours you devote to your job.
B )WE ARE WHAT WE SHARE.
We are…Language lovers. Caregivers. Thinkers. Motivators. Inspirers. Mentors. Instructors. Partners. Organizers. Creative geniuses. Laugh-makers. Leaders. Team-members. Mind-openers. Confidence-builders. That is who we are. THAT IS WHO YOU ARE. Very valuable…in this profession and in this world.
C) THE JOB GOES TO ONE WHO SAYS YES.
It has taken me 18 years of teaching…and a good many years of involuntary volunteerism before that to figure this out. Sometimes not saying no = saying yes.
D) IF I DON’T SAY YES THEY WILL FIND SOMEONE WHO WILL.
Say this to yourself over and over again until it starts to sound believable. They (the
powers that be and your own conscience) will tell you otherwise. Look around at all the other people who are not doing what you do. They said no. Look at all you do. You said yes. If you say no, someone will step up to fill the vacuum, in many cases. Saying yes does not make you better. It makes you busier. …and sometimes makes you bitter.
E)YOUR VERY NATURE WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO BE A BAD TEACHER.
If you are a good teacher by nature and by practice, you will continue to be one. You
might be a DIFFERENT KIND of good teacher than you were 5 years ago or 5 years from now….but your knowledge, skill, caring, and love will always make you a good teacher.
F) YOU WILL EARN AS MUCH RESPECT FOR SETTING BOUNDARIES AS YOU WILL FOR TRYING TO DO IT ALL.
I did not know this. I still have to remind myself of it often. And even better, you will have something of yourself left at the end of the day.
G) IT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA TO PUT OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN BEFORE YOUR OWN.
We have all seen it happen. The ideal teacher or principal. The award-winning coach. With no connection to their own. The older my children are (now 7 and 9) (additional note…they are now 25 and 27!!!) the more I see the truth in this.
H) YOU ARE TEACHING BY EXAMPLE.
I have seniors who we refer to as “serial joiners”. They have signed up for every club, activity and sport available. Some are near the nervous breakdown stage. Others have eating disorders. Must do everything. Perfectly if possible. I was one, can still be one if I am not careful. I don’t think it is healthy for them. I want them to learn to set priorities and manage time. Find balance. I cannot do that if I show them…by example…that I think a good person is one who does everything and does it well come hell or high water. If I only love myself as an overachiever , how can I convince them that they have great worth for who they are…not the number of items they accomplish in one day?
I) CAN I BE GRATEFUL ABOUT THIS…OR JUST RESENTFUL?
This is the test I have been using to decide whether to say yes or no. If I can be
grateful…it is worth considering. If I will only feel resentful (regardless of how good an idea it is or no matter how important it is to someone else!!!!!!!!!!!) I must seriously consider whether it is worth the time and energy involved.
J) NOT EVERYTHING MUST BE DONE RIGHT NOW.
I have a great list of great ideas. I take comfort in the fact that someday I will do most of them(or get someone else to !!) I am learning to wait to get them accomplished… Everything in its own time.
If you have made it to the end of this ramble…thanks for sticking with me….it was probably more helpful for me to write it to myself than for you to read it!! :o) Teresa, your discomfort and frustration right now are a healthy sign that you are ready to grow. Good things are coming your way personally and professionally. But you may have to let go of some things to
make room for them in your life. It may be an attitude, an outlook, or a responsibility. For some teachers it has even meant a change in position, to another facet of teaching, or a position in another district. For others, just a shift in their approach to each day’s work. I understand how you feel. My friends who are reading this will tell you I have been there and still find myself there many days. It is part of the midpoint in the teaching cycle…who knows…maybe any point in the cycle. But the cycle will continue…I wish you peace and joy with your life and your profession as you go. And strange as it may seem, the discomfort and
frustration may just bring you what you really want and need. Keep your eyes and heart open.