Tales of a Tired Teacher

Last quarter I brought two different shoes to work. Luckily, I had a back-up pair of flip flops I could wear instead of the two different sized wedges I planned on wearing all day.

I thought last year was hard. I thought I was tired last year. Last year, in my first year teaching, in the first full school year navigating COVID, I cried every day of the first semester and almost quit last October.

It’s amazing to see how far I’ve come since then. My second year of teaching has been much easier in many ways. I know my system. I know my kids (and they like me at the start of the year instead of waiting until the second semester to even smile at me). I’m not the new girl amongst my co-workers. My room was set up the way I liked it. I could see the growth in my students from last year.

Even though I thought year 2 would be easier by knowing what to expect, in several ways, it’s not. We’re still navigating crazy times in the world. My work load is about the same as the year before, if not more since I am teaching an extra class and the advisor to National Honor Society. On the days I don’t physically bring the work home with me (which isn’t many), I’m still thinking about what needs to be done and what’s to come and about my students’ well-being.

Some would say that’s a sign of a good teacher. I’m not sure, but I would push back and say caring too much and working all the time is just as bad as not caring at all and not even reaching the bare minimum that needs to be done. Bringing anything home on the weekdays or weekend actually makes me a dangerous teacher. And I’ve been in the danger zone for a while.

I’m in danger of becoming so burnt out that I either disappear in smoke or go up in flames. For me, last year’s word motto was survive. Now, this year’s word is boundaries.

I need them in order to make it to the end of the year.

It’s hard to not instantly respond to an email when a student has a question that isn’t an emergency or just needs to vent. It’s hard having to shut my door and lock it so I can actually get some work done at school without a student or co-worker coming in to chat. It’s hard not to want to turn around and go back home when I make it to the parking lot because I’m just so physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, and I just don’t think I’ll make it through the day and be what I need to be for my students.

Recently, I just finished reading The Scarlet Letter with my juniors and seniors. We’ve been discussing guilt in the book, and it got me to thinking how guilty I’ve felt this year and last year. Last year, I felt guilty for not doing as much. I felt like I wasn’t teaching all that I could, or even incorporating Scripture into my lessons as much. I would say I do a better job at it this year, but I am still holding onto a lot of guilt.

Now, I feel guilty for doing too much. I feel guilty about having to work so much just to keep my head afloat for the next day because I simply just do not have enough time during my contract hours to get it done at school. I feel guilty for not doing more as a wife or being there for my family. My husband is great and very understanding when it comes to my job, but I still feel guilty about not always being present at home, or having to give up my weekends and time with him just to have my materials ready to go on Monday. I constantly ask myself how can I not bring it home?!

I feel guilty for complaining about my job when I have a great school to teach at, a great boss, great co-workers, and great students. I feel guilty for not always being at the top of my game, or choosing to focus more on one class than another sometimes due to the need for more study prep on a particular subject that day. I feel guilty for just not having the energy to do anything.

This guilt led to this year’s word: boundaries. I know I can’t do it all. I know I certainly can’t do it all alone. By the grace of God, I am somehow able to show up and be what I need to be for those kids (Well, most days. Sometimes I am on another planet with my thoughts). I’m certainly not the best teacher, but my students know I care about them. If they need me, I’ll be there. But I can only be there after I put on my own oxygen mask and take care of my life outside of my job.

I do respond to those work emails, but if it can sit until I come in Monday morning, then it will sit. If a student needs to chat, I let them know when I’m available. If I can’t go to a sporting event, even if it’s just because I’m too tired and really need to go home and spend time with my family, then I don’t go. I try not to stay at work past a certain time, even if I have to just pack up and leave without finishing what I need to before tomorrow. I started leaving books and study materials I don’t need for the next day on my desk instead of my bag to go home. As much as possible, I protect my time before school begins, my planning period, and my afternoons. I cannot exhibit any fruits of the Spirit if I am sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, and pouring all I got into my job and leaving my family empty-handed of my usual self. Instead, more often than I really want to admit, my personal life receives my short temper and lack of patience.

In this season, God has been showing me I need balance in all areas of my life in order to be what I need to be to everyone. He is the only place where we can find true rest, for Jesus said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Overworking yourself doesn’t do anyone around you in any good. We are not built to be going, going, going all the time. I have learned, and am still learning, that it’s okay to put it down and walk away. With a little more sleep in my system and less resentment, I can still get my job done, even if I did just hang out with my husband, cat, and puppy while watching TV the night before when I should be grading papers.

My boundaries still need some work. I’m far from where I want to be, but I’m doing better than I did last quarter when I was running on fumes, bringing in two different shoes to work. I’m still tired, but God is teaching me how to recharge my batteries so my light can shine brighter than before.

Jesus, thank you for the wonderful husband who loves and reassures me that Your plan is better than whatever I cook up. Thank you for the students who are resilient and understanding, the co-workers who encourage and lift me up, and for my job that helps provide for my family.

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