Picture it. It's graduation season. You've finished your teaching internship at a local elementary school. You landed a job in the middle of the school year. You bought your cap and gown and you're ready to strut across the stage into the world of adulthood while beginning the career of your dreams.
You're ready to change the world. You've read the stories about the impact of a great teacher. You've been inspired by the movies showing how a teacher change the lives of dozens or even hundreds of children. You've cried at the heartwarming viral videos that show an auditorium full of former students getting together to celebrate the teacher who changed their life. You are ready to become this image of good teaching that you've seen over the years.
So naturally on your first day, you jump in, head first. You arrive early and stay late to make everything perfect for Open House. You go above and beyond to decorate your classroom. You use your graduation money for your classroom. Your friends and family may donate items to make your government funded room come to life. You have butterflies in your stomach as you try to ensure you have taken care of every single thing before the kids come. The first few weeks are full of procedure practice, routines, and relationship building. You're tired, but you keep going. Assessments, benchmarks, and parent teacher conferences slowly begin to consume your planning, so you start taking work home. Before you know it, you're exhausted. Being tired and stressed is your normal and you have completely lost your identity in teaching.
This is my story of how I allowed teaching to consume my life. One day, I asked myself, "How did I get here?" Here are the three ways I lost myself in teaching without even realizing it.
I had no boundaries. Absolutely none. I gave my personal number to families. I constantly checked my email at home. I spent weekends grading papers. Slowly this became my lifestyle and my I didn't even realize that I was neglecting my own needs. I made teaching my hobby and rarely took days off.
I did not know how to say no. For most of my career, I was single and had no children of my own. It was so easy to center my world around my work, because, well honestly, I didn't think I had much else to concern myself with. I said yes to teaching summer school, tutoring before and after school, attending extra professional development opportunities and serving on multiple committees.
I prioritized teaching over everything else. I wanted to be a good teacher so badly, that I was willing to not have a personal 20-something year old life. I didn't go out on school nights or take weekend trips because I wanted to be what I thought was "best for kids." Even if I did take a trip or a day off, I struggled to be present mentally. I would be ruminating over my to do list or thinking through a lesson for the following week. I just couldn't stop "being a teacher."
Slowly, I picked up unhealthy habits that did not serve me. I thought focusing on myself was selfish. What I did not realize until my sixth year of teaching was that even though I didn't think it was important to prioritize myself, everyone around me needed to believe the exact opposite. My family needed this version of myself. My friends needed this version of myself. My students needed this version. Most importantly, I needed this version of myself. The one who prioritizes wellness and practices healthy habits.
When I finally learned this lesson, teaching became enjoyable again. I was able to show up authentically and felt like my whole self. I had to take ownership of allowing the unsustainable demands of teaching take over my life, but I also had to take control and reclaim my time.
You can do it too, teacher friend. You can teach and have a life.