I work with a group of first-year Teach For America teachers. Last week, at our December meeting, one of them said, “I was so tired and hungry after school, I saw a kid had left a half-eaten sandwich... so I ate it.”
A few folks gasped, all of us laughed. The teacher mentioned how hungry they were, and how each second they waited, the sandwich just got more stale. They were so tired and knew they needed a snack, so... they ate it.
And isn’t that first-year teaching in a nutshell?
Snack hygiene aside (personally, if I had torn off the eaten part, I would’ve done the same), it reminded me how brutal first-year teaching can be. I reflected a little on it personally: it’s physically difficult and requires a new level of efficiency, but it’s also mentally and emotionally exhausting. Rewarding, yes, but tiring.
As I read my own words, though, I realized that in some ways it’s not just first-year teaching that’s exhausting-- it’s teaching in general. I’m in my sixth-year in the classroom, yet I still got to this winter break through sheer force of will, collapsing after crossing the finish line into a heap of long naps and Netflix (with a pile of papers I still need to grade this break currently untouched).
Teachers are making thousands of decisions every day, and magnitude of the work we do on a daily basis often means that by the time we get to the celebratory, ticker-tape finish, we end up on the pavement gasping for air. It is worth it, of course-- the success of our students and the joy that comes with our growth as a classroom community is worth more than any cheering crowds or medal might be.
Still, it is important to remember that a good teaching career is a marathon, not a sprint. This is especially true for folks who are serving students from historically oppressed backgrounds or attempting to serve those students by educating our own communities about systemic oppression and how to help beat back its stranglehold on other communities (and in our own minds and hearts). Good teaching asks us to call our own beliefs and practices into question as often as we can, ensuring that we are creating an equitable and safe classroom environment for our students. It asks us to continually reflect on our own work and whether we are measuring up to the important task we have taken on as educators.
And that is worthwhile. It is necessary and good... and it is very, very tiring sometimes.
As we navigate the course of the school year, it’s important to ensure we find the places where we can rest, recharge, and recover so that we can finish the race strong.
Now that the holiday season is wrapping up, many of us have the chance for a few real days of relaxation. So, whether you want to completely step away from your practice, or still want to try and grow in your work over break (we all have our different needs and styles), here are some quick suggestions to get the ball rolling on recovery:
Head In The Game:
And by “game” I mean “classroom.”
- Take a look. It’s in a book (or an article). Take the time we rarely have during the regular year to expand your mind and read stories from other educators about their work and the work we must be doing. Some places to look:
- Get Inspired. Watching the work of other teachers can be hugely helpful to your own practice.
- Listen. Teacher podcasts are a great way to learn some new things while handling other life tasks (e.g. laundry). Edutopia and TeachThought have some great lists.
- Plan. So, this is towards the bottom because unless you need to plan, I think taking a step back can be VERY helpful and I highly recommend it. However, if you like planning, perhaps you could...
- Plan a way to get student and/or community feedback sometime in the next month.
- Plan one to two new ways you can have student-centred/driven learning in your classroom.
- Choose one Teaching Tolerance lesson to add to the first week or month you’re back.
- Find one community member to bring into your classroom for a lesson in some way.
- Discover one inspiring person/story from your students’ community to share in the classroom.
Take A Break, Come Away With Us For Winter Break
This is a Hamilton reference and I’m not sorry.
- Binge-watch all the things. Pro-tip: I asked my Facebook timeline for recommendations, and I got enough to last me the year.
- Clean. I’m the actual worst at this, but someone once told me that a cluttered space is a cluttered mind. I have a really cluttered mind, but you may want to try and de-clutter yours now to start the new year fresh (Ok, yes Mom-- I’ll do it too. *sigh*).
- Read. Take the time you normally don’t have to get inspired by a new book. NPR’s Book Concierge is magic for this.
- Listen. Find a new podcast to make you laugh or think about your life outside your classroom. My current new favorite? Levar Burton Reads. It’s like Reading Rainbow, but for adults.
- Move (Physically or Mentally). Pick up a new hobby, and bonus points if it gets some physical movement or self-care in there. Take the time to love on yourself a little, whether it’s through Yoga, taking long bubble baths, Muay Thai, finally learning how to knit, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, snuggling with a cat or loved one, CrossFit, or just indulging in a good nap. Honor your body and mind as the tools you use to finish the race well and give them a chance to recover.
Now that we have the chance, take the second to treat yourself to more than the half-eaten sandwich. Don’t get me wrong-- we find our sustenance any way we can, but we all deserve the chance to choose something truly enjoyable and indulgent in some way too.
FWIW, I spent my holidays napping, being with my family, eating a ton of food, and hanging out with this dog.
The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.