This week I’ve seen countless articles and had several conversations with colleagues and friends about burnout. Burnout isn’t some imaginary affliction and many professions experience it, but right now, the media is talking about how it impacts teachers and thereby our students.
In my parents’ day, you went to work every day at a specified time, did your job, came home around 5 (without work to do) and brought home a paycheck every two weeks that equated your time with a set monetary amount. There was never discussion of whether or not you loved, much less LIKED, your job. You did the job as a means to an end…survival. In years past, teachers kind of followed that same formula–go to work, work, go home, collect paycheck. They’ve always had a few other things added in though: taking student work to be home to be graded, arrange for professional development to ensure their licenses would renew and they could keep their jobs, follow up with parents about student progress, prepare materials for class, teach after-school enrichment, coach, or work second jobs (or all of those things).
There’s a meme floating around that says something along the lines of teaching being the most important job in the world and the hardest because it’s the most important job every day. Kids rely on teachers to help them learn, help them develop into good humans, help them learn to handle conflicts, learn to play, and learn to do the work of learning. Parents rely on teachers to take care of their kids for the 7 hours they’re in class together, keeping them safe and engaged in the work of learning. Administrators rely on teachers to keep up with paperwork and grading, engage parents and meet the needs of the children they are serving, assess student progress and be able to turn lessons on a dime to meet the needs of ALL the kids–those with special needs, those who are typical, and those who are gifted–all at the same time with the same instruction. The public relies on teachers to create an educated populus to ensure that we are able to continue existing as a free nation…and some want religious beliefs (theirs only) taught daily in schools and others want that kept at home but reinforced at school and still others don’t want any of it anywhere.
Those are pretty high expectations. And for every child, every parent, and every member of the public, what that looks like will vary–we will not be able to have what we do make all of them happy at the same time.
Then you throw in the needs of spouses, the needs of a teacher’s own children, aging parents and their needs, student loans and mortgage payments, car maintenance, college tuition for the aforementioned children, and general adulting.
And when you are a teacher of gifted children things are a bit more complicated in the classroom. You’re working with the intensities of the children you serve as well as those of their parents, who have a distinct view of what their child’s school day should look like, sound like, and feel like, both for them and for their kids. You’re mindful of how you pace your lessons (slower? faster?) and where depth and complexity comes into play in the activities you choose–you worry about how you plan and word your lessons, how you lead discussions of novels and current events articles, of scientific theories, of history as a whole, trying to figure out how to explain all of it without offending someone’s religious beliefs, political beliefs, cultural background, or general upbringing. Was the lesson rigorous enough? Too difficult? Developmentally appropriate? (because with asynchronous development, that changes depending on the topic…) What I do for Jane in reading (her area of giftedness) has to change in math (an area of struggle) because while she’s gifted all the time, she isn’t as strong in all subject areas so what works in one won’t work in another…
You worry about how conflict between kids is handled–their intensities play a HUGE role in their conflicts. It should be a learning experience for them, but how much of it needs to be just “handled” by you to send the message to parents that you’re doing your job the way they want your job done? Will emotional and social needs of the kids be met if it’s a quick fix or does it need to be something more involved? At what point do we step aside and support kids as they figure out how to exist with humans who may not share their thinking? Does every moment of the day need to be teacher-led to ensure that no one feels uncomfortable or is teaching kids how to work through those feelings important?
You spend hours fielding questions and notes from families questioning why you are doing what you are doing and how you’re doing it because they feel strongly it should be done another way. Their insight and feedback is valuable, but it’s draining…and you can’t change everything so that it’s the way one parent wants it because you’ll have four others who take issue with the fact that it wasn’t changed to the way they want to see it done. So you go back to the research, the best practice…and risk more conflict.
Burnout is real. And it’s common among teachers…and moreso among teachers of the gifted.
We consider whether working at Whole Foods is a better choice or really look at Tahiti as a living situation…
We come back every day because we recognize that what we do is important. These kids, this particular population, needs us to be there for them, to advocate for them, to really SEE them. We work hard to build relationships that are rooted in trust with our kids and their families. We really are trying to do the best for kids in the long term.
I have a pin on the quilt that hangs in my office. It says “Didn’t please everyone.” (I think some days I’ll just wear it as a badge of honor.) We can’t please everyone. And I think that knowing and really understanding that is critical to ease the potential for burnout. What’s most important?
Are the kids you serve growing? Are they having learning experiences that make them think, seek connections, and grow as humans? Are their relationships with you and their peers growing and healthy? Are you seeking out support when you need it? Are YOU growing in your practice? Your knowledge of practice and content and kids? Do you take time to practice self-care?
This was in my Passion Planner this week. Self-care is how we can work to overcome burnout. What it looks like for all of us is different, but if, at the end of the day, we can look in the mirror and know that we tried something new, learned something new for ourselves, and made a difference to a child in some way, that’s a pretty good day.
The to-do list will be there…don’t forget to take time for you.