Saturday, January 14, 2017

Stress and the lack of it

*I wrote this in December and never hit publish, so I'm hitting the publish button now.*

"So, how's it going with your new business?" 

I've been on my own with my private special education business for about 5 months now. I can't put into words how much I love it. I work with absolutely amazing kids and their incredible, dedicated families. 

I'm probably putting in longer hours than I did last year (and making less money), but I love every moment of it. Even when it's not going well, when I'm stressed, have a sick kid, a lesson didn't go as planned, or I'm having trouble figuring out where to go next with a student, I still find myself in an overall happy place. These challenges are good challenges.

What's surprised me the most is struggling with the guilt of being happy. I've been teaching in Title One schools for a long time, where every single moment you are in the building is valuable. I can't remember the last time I took a legit lunch break at work, especially since I became a mom and had to leave right at the end of the day. In a school building, every open second needs to be about the kids. If you find yourself with extra time on your hands (time that lets you actually plan for a class, check in with a colleague, or answer some emails) you've felt like you've done something wrong. Stress is a way of life. It's been that way at every Title 1 school I've worked in.

On the surface this can be a good thing. It shows the dedication of the teachers. We desperately want these kids to learn and succeed. We know they can learn to read, we just need to push ourselves to get them there. So we do. Every day. 

I was surprised this fall to be so uncomfortable away from the stress. I'm still working hard for my clients. I'm constantly thinking about them, looking for ways to improve my practice and get new ideas. I'm reading and listening to professional books, and doing deep thinking about practices. In fact, I'm probably doing more thinking about being creative than I have in the last few years. It's funny where a lack of emergency stress leaves you.

But I find myself wracked with guilt that I'm not feeling this crazy emergency stress every moment of the day. I feel like I'm missing something. As though I've showed up to school naked. 

Today is the last day of school before winter break in my district, and every teacher I know is filled with jubilee. I know they've had a hard December. Schools are crazy this time of year. I'm still working over the holidays, so I don't have that same since of ending, but I don't need it. I don't feel like I just ran a marathon and I need to take a break to recharge. I am recharged. I've been recharged all fall.

It's hard to even write this, because I'm worried someone will read it and say "HEY! That's not allowed!  You aren't allowed to be in the teaching profession and not be stressed. We're taking away your teaching certificate, or we're going to give you 100 more things to do."

What are we doing to teachers? Why have we created these extremely stressful environments and written them off as normal, and a part of the profession? Did we do it to ourselves from our dedication to the children? Did being stressed and over worked become a competition?

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