It is that time of year again. December. The month when elementary teachers
- Observe students that seem to gravitate to either eerily good or Grinch-like badness and sometimes both in a single day.
- have to try to hush the kid who is bragging about there being no Santa Claus when she knows that another student fervently believes.
- wish snowsuits could go on in 5 seconds or less and without teacher intervention
- wish snowsuits came off in 5 seconds or less and without teacher intervention
- dream they could take coffee intravenously
- Ponder getting a long term sub so they can do the expected holiday things for their family AND for school
- Secretly want Santa to lace the students’ drinking fountain with valium
I’ve seen new teachers go from chirping about how much they love Christmas to asking obsessively when the holiday break begins. And I’ve watched the color drain out of their faces when they realize that the break is far shorter than the break they had during college. Poor things. Welcome to teaching!
All of the teachers I know talk about the stress that comes this time of year. It doesn’t surprise me.
Teaching at any time of the year is stressful. And no wonder! Having to constantly make decisions is stressful and teachers are estimated to, on average, make 1,500 decisions a day. Having to constantly exert self-control is stressful, and teachers must keep tight self-control or they would be making sarcastic comments to students, snapping at parents, and telling insensitive supervisors where to go and what to do with it when they get there! Teaching is one of the few professions where one cannot attend to bodily functions whenever one feels the need; teachers have to train themselves to go to the bathroom during prep time or recesses. A 2017 survey reported by AFT says that teachers feel a lack of societal respect for a variety of reasons and feeling like one is being watched and judged constantly is another form of stress.
This is not mentioning the amount of paperwork, the long days, the constant pace of the school day, feeling like one is trying to teach more and more while the available time to teach it all has decreased . . . oh, and let’s not forget the day when you are starting a lesson you’ve planned so very carefully only to find that three kids are out with the flu, the internet is down so you can’t show the video clip and, oh NO! Johnny just threw up on his desk.
Add to the generous amount of stress educators encounter on a daily basis to the stress many feel during the holidays and a teacher can feel like she is about to break in half.
So what’s a teacher to do?
I know you’ve heard this advice over and over again, and it is SO much easier to say it than do it: You have to take care of yourself! This means getting a reasonable amount of sleep at night, eating healthily, drinking enough water, and exercising.
I know it is easier said than done because I am struggling with doing those things myself. I constantly wonder what I can do that will force me to choose wisely when it comes to food and will make me want to exercise despite the cold and early darkness and lack of will power. One thing that was suggested to me was to put alarms into my phone reminding me to drink water or to get up and move. I’m ready to try it!
Maybe we all can help each other? Maybe we can approach another educator or school worker and ask him/her to be your school “mom”? (You know, moms take care of everyone. Who doesn’t need a mom to take care of us at school?)
I certainly am open to ideas on what and how to do these things!
The other thing we can do is this: Create a “Why I Teach” file. A WIT file is where you put those sweet notes kids periodically write to us, the email from that parent that said that nice thing, or even a photo of something good kids have done. My WIT file has cards from kids and parents, notes from kids, emails with rather cryptic remarks that I’ve had to explain in the margin. Your WIT file could have newspaper clippings, marvelous quotes from famous authors, funny cartoons. It could be almost anything. The idea is that you are collecting things that you can look through when you feel like you’ve reached the end of your rope. It is a gift you give yourself for those times when you’d like to chuck the whole career out the window.
Most of the time I am fairly positive, but there have been times when the tongue-in-cheek newspaper clipping feels like it could happen and I have thought my WIT file was the only thing that could remind me of why I chose this profession.
There are a lot of people who will tell you that teachers make a difference. But I’d like to echo Harry and Rosemary Wong when they say, “You ARE the difference!”
Take care of yourself, and take care of your fellow educators! Have a good holiday!
Please share what you are doing to take care of yourself during this time of the year, and what you are doing to help take care of other educators.