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Teacher Guilt and What To Do About It

In 2019, I had my daughter, Mila. She means the absolute world to me and has taught me so much over the past 2 years. See, like many moms, teachers, and moms who are teachers, I have had my fair share of teacher guilt.

Teacher guilt happens when you feel like you have to do more for your scholars, but you lack the time, and often energy to do so. You may also allow your job (because that's what it is) to rob you of being fully present because you are thinking about something to do with teaching. Here are some examples of how I experiences teacher guilt in my ten years:

  • Hesitating to take a day off because it could inconvenience my kids, my team, and administration. Getting a sub was difficult before COVID, but during the pandemic it was nearly impossible.

  • Leaving work at work. I cannot tell you how many times I would pack my teacher bag full of papers that had piled up, only to leave them in the car because I was so exhausted.

  • Arriving to work on time and leaving on time. This one was tricky for me. The pressure to arrive early and leave late is there. I just could not fathom going in early AND leaving late?! No one deliberately says it, but it's obvious in many school settings when teachers are praised and awarded for going "above and beyond."

  • Taking a break during the day. For years, I would be on the GO at work. All day, everyday. Often times, I felt like there was never enough time to do everything I needed to do, so I would work through lunch and specials, AND multitask during meetings.

Can you relate?! I now realize how problematic and unhealthy these habits were. I failed to realize that I was just one human and that I could not be everything to everyone. Here's what you can do to SHIFT your mindset when it comes to teacher guilt.

  • When you feel the guilt start to creep in, ask yourself some of the following questions

  • "Why am I feeling this way?"

  • "If I do this task now, will I be at my best for my family and students tomorrow?"

  • "Is this task ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for tomorrow to run smoothly?"

  • "Can I ask someone for help?"

  • Follow your response up with more "whys" to arrive to an answer that eases your mind.

  • Remind yourself of your awesome-ness. I think we are often too hard on ourselves and don't give ourselves enough credit. Acknowledge all that you have done during the school day and give yourself permission to be okay with being okay.

  • Evaluate your educational values, goals, and expectations. Often times, guilt can be self inflicted based on an idea we developed in our own minds plus the demands of our jobs.

  • Within my first two weeks of teaching, I got an ear infection and sinus infection. Of course, I tried to push through, but my mentor stopped me in my tracks to say, "Caitlin, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Go home and rest. The kids will be fine." Remember that YOUR health and wellness are PRIORITIES!

  • Recognize and celebrate your own humanity. In college (ten years ago), I remember being told what it meant to be professional. We had to make sure that we were dressed to the nines, had every piercing removed (other than ears), tattoos covered, and knew to never go to the ABC store in your school's neighborhood. Oh, and never get caught in the wine section at the local grocery store. I landed my first teaching job at 22 years old, so naturally I played the part. I was a robot and struggled to connect with my kids. I learned very quickly to be myself and that opened the door for me to build connections with my kids. You have to be yourself, everyone else is taken. Being myself removed the added pressure to be "professional" and lifted the weight of teacher guilt.

  • For years, it has been "normal" for teachers to be burnt out, stressed, and exhausted. You can help change that narrative by having the audacity to take care of you. Self care can be a radical act in our profession and for that, you should feel no guilt. You deserve a healthy work/life balance.

Remember that the work you do matters and so do you! Create boundaries and non negotiables that work for you and leave that teacher guilt in 2020.

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