No one told me
When I started teaching, no one told me how to find balance. No one told me how to teach from abundance. The goal was to understand the curriculum and teach the children. I soon realized that there were a million missing pieces in what I thought my job was.
I did my best, chasing my tail, trying to keep up. Eventually, just going through the motions and teaching from a place of empty because I had no idea how to do everything and take care of myself. My marriage suffered. My own children suffered. My mental health suffered. I was tired. So tired.
Most teachers go into this profession because you feel called to it. No one teaches because it's easy, because you get time off, or you get paid oh so well. Let me clue in my non-educator friends on a few things you've probably never considered when it comes to your child's teacher.
- I never got to take my kids to school on the first day because I was there for my students.
- I never got to attend my kids' holiday parties because I had to be there for my students.
- I never got to have lunch with my children because you have to get a substitute for a full day or half day and not just an hour.
- I rarely took off for my kids' field trips because getting a substitute is very difficult and those days needed to be saved when someone was really sick.
- I spent thousands of my own dollars each year on school supplies and materials for my students which means that even though we provided well for our own children, we never saved money because I was pouring any extra back into my classroom. I know, you may say that this was my choice and it was but also, there were so many needs and it's hard to not take care of them.
- I worked 10 hour days and often on weekends because there just wasn't enough time to get everything done. I missed out on my own kids' things because I lived at school.
- During the summer, people think that I just did nothing but the truth was, that for years, I was attending (without pay) professional development that wasn't required but strongly encouraged so we all attended it. The curriculum changes often so you have to go to classes to understand how to to teach it well. That's usually on your own time and unpaid but you want to be the best teacher, so you go.
- I spent days during the summer prepping curriculum (at my own expense), preparing my classroom and really trying to undo the damage I had let happen in my own home being absent so much.
I don't share these pain points to complain because I LOVED teaching. It's the reality of the teaching profession. These are the things they don't tell you in college. I think with most callings, you know there will be sacrifice so you just do whatever it takes because you believe in the impact for the greater good. Praise hands for the teachers who don't give up because we NEED YOU and you ARE impacting the greater good!
The good news
Here's the deal, friends, teachers have got to do better when it comes to self care because more and more educators are leaving the profession and our future honestly depends on the education of the next generation. If someone were to ask me what my platform is, this would be it. When I keynote for a conference or a school district, I don't tell you what to teach or how to teach. Nope. I remind you of your value and why it's so important for you to be whole.
Let me break it down for you. Teachers are naturally YES people. Can you plan math night? Yes. Can you tutor after school? Yes. Can you do home visits? Yes. There is nothing wrong with doing all the things but there comes a point when you spread yourself so thin that your yes says no to so many other important things. You know, your family. Your spouse. Your kids. YOURSELF.
We think that when we say yes to all of the things, that we are increasing our impact when actually, we are running ourselves ragged which severely decreases our impact. When school starts back up, you are probably functioning at 100%. You've taken some time this summer to eat real food, pee when you needed to (nonteachers, teacher bladder is an actual thing), maybe even slept a full eight hours and did something for yourself. You start the year strong.
Same hamster wheel, new year.
Then, you fall back into the same habits. Ten hour days, living off of snacks, sleeping five hours a night. Same hamster wheel, new year. And yet, your goal is still the same. Love children. Impact education. But eventually (actually, quite quickly) your 100% dwindles and now you are living in a state of 10%. If you were a cell phone, you would live in the red. And you only charge yourself enough to stay on and not die but still, you continue to live in the red.
I want you to think about something though. You are an amazing teaching. You are so amazing that you are making a huge impact function on an almost dead battery. But, what if you kept yourself charged? I know putting yourself first is completely foreign. If you made a list of your top ten priorities, you probably wouldn't be on it. But what if. Imagine the impact you would have on children and education if you functioned at 100% instead of 10%. You see, we think we are doing the best by others when we put ourselves last but actually, we are doing a disservice because we are teaching from a place of less than instead of teaching from a place of abundance.
What if you set a time to leave each day and got home before the sun went down? You were able to cook dinner with your family. Eat healthy. Watch your favorite tv show or read a chapter in a new book. Then, get a good night's rest.
What if you didn't work weekends? If instead you took your kids to the park, maybe indulge in a pedicure or plan a date night. Go to church and plan your house for the week ahead. You know, meals and clothes and all of the things you otherwise do on the fly and stress you to max.
What if you took care of your body? Make a meal plan for the week and get or order groceries. Plan to eat well and exercise. Do things that make you physically strong instead of living off of sugar and caffeine.
What if teaching was what you did and not who you are? I know, I know. I have said since the beginning of time that teaching is not just what I do, it's who I am. That is so true but I had to learn that I needed to disconnect to take care of myself. I needed to disconnect so I could be present for my family. I had to learn that “teacher” didn't have to mean 24/7. Here's the deal. You will never get everything done so stop killing yourself trying.
I learned that when I left at a decent time each day, the world did not end. I was able to be a more present parent and a more attentive spouse. I was returning to school the next day rested instead of exhausted which made me more a present teacher for my students. I learned that by not working weekends, I didn't dread Monday because I disconnected over the weekend and filled my cup. I learned that by taking care of myself, my impact was greater because I learned to teach from abundance and not from a constant state of empty.
Teachers, I challenge you to reevaluate your priorities as you head into the new school year. I hope you understand that when you choose to take care of yourself, you actually increase your impact because you are able to give from more than 10%. I challenge you to put as much effort into your own battery as you do your cell phone battery. Stop living in the red zone. Starting living charged so you can teach from abundance.
And, non-teaching friends, I challenge you to support our teachers. We are all in this together. If we keep losing good teachers, we will be in a world of hurt. Offer words of affirmation, bring them a meal for their family, notice them when they are run down and help build them up. Remember, they are a huge part of your village and we are raising the next generation together.
From the Inside out
How amazing would it be to go to school and feel strong mentally and physically every day?! Don't just think about “what if” but instead, make changes and find balance. Being a teacher does not mean sacrificing yourself and your family. You were called to this. You can do this. But, you can't do this on empty. We need you and we need you whole. Being a teacher means changing the lives of others but before we can do that, we have to start with ourselves. From the inside out. That is where the impact is. When you do that, you teach from abundance. Imagine if all teachers taught from abundance. Imagine the impact we could have on the world!