Parenting. Deadlines. Students. Educational Reforms. Aging.
Life is the truest adventure there is, but it isn't without challenges. Education, like life, is a wonderful journey filled with joy, successes, and failures.
Those failures or even the pathways to success often inflict a great deal of stress on a teacher.
Try as we may to minimize these stresses, they are hard to rid from our lives completely.
The other day while I was in the shower and yet another unseemly amount of hair fell from my head, I pondered the sources of my stress and possible ways to reconsider my approach to them in order to alleviate what feels like unmanageable amounts of stress.
Being a divorced mom of a teenage child. I'm around children all of the time and I've witnessed first hand what divorce does to children over time. Because of this, I work several jobs so he won't have to want for anything and I try to participate in as much of his life as I can. Sadly, I'm extremely hard on myself as a parent (and in general); I know I need to be gentle with myself. As a matter of fact, I got excellent advice on Facebook the other day to treat myself as I would treat one of my students. That really did refocus the stress as I would never treat a student the way I was treating myself at that moment.
Deadlines at school and in writing. I never thought I was motivated by a looming deadline, as I've always been the type to be way ahead of them. A project comes in and it's due in two weeks or two months, I'll start it today. When free time comes, I seize it and off I go to make sure the deadline never actually arrives because I'm done well before. This in itself creates stress as I end up generating an element of pressure to get things done well and quickly. It's a part of my brand. Whether I'm providing feedback to students or writing that next article, making sure my work is early is essential. Being hyper-organized has helped me manage this stress, even if it is self-imposed at times as well.
Try to reach all of my students. Helping adolescents see the urgency in their learning, particularly as second-semester seniors is challenging. I'm expected to be able to get through to them all on some level and my inability to do so every day has become a source of sadness and stress. Toiling over ways to better engage them or get them to care often keeps me up at night. Remembering that I only have so much control over my students helps, but I still feel compelled to appeal to them, helping them understand that it does matter and they need to take notice. Although I'm certain I do get through to a couple more than I would have, I need to work on acceptance without giving up my passion for trying to reach them all. Focusing on the realization that they are grown people who make their own choices, is one way for me to absolve myself of responsibility for their chosen apathy.
Being a rebel in a people pleasers body. Deeply committed to changing the world through education takes the kind of brash attitude and forward behavior you'd expect from an adolescent. A flippant disregard for the rules as it applies to a certainty of knowing what is right for kids, especially when there is perceived harm in bigger issues (like cell phone bans). One has to be willing to take major risks and do them fearlessly. Unfortunately in stark contrast with this stubborn aspect of my personality is my inner people-pleaser who has a hard time saying no. What needs to be done here is striking a balance between the truth of my struggles to move ahead for the kids and functioning within the school community I live in. The harmony may not always be there, but as long as I know my intentions are in the right place, perhaps the frustration of dealing with it will ease.
Aging. The bottom line is at almost 38 my body just can't do what it did a decade ago no matter how much I will it to. I don't function as well on as little sleep. I'm sluggish when I don't eat right or even drink too much coffee. My days of going out on school nights to blow off steam are over and the wear and tear of being a mom and a teacher have also taken their toll. What needs to happen now is a readjustment of my routines. Going to bed earlier. Not allowing non-negotiables to get under my skin. Recognizing what is and isn't in my control and adjusting my expectations accordingly. Getting older happens, but it doesn't have to be stressful if I don't let it be.
Stress is a part of everyone's life on some level and learning to manage the realities of these challenges is part of being a grown-up. Modeling how to do it for students is added responsibility and still maintaining obligations without giving up is also essential. So what is there to do but take it one day at a time, one moment at a time and breath.
What are your biggest daily stressors? How do you handle them? Please share
This post originally ran on my Ed Week Teacher blog in April 2015. This has been updated.