Control During Crisis

I don’t think I’m a control freak. I really don’t. In my previous lives before I came to teaching, I had very little control over my work life. My hours were set by someone else, my sales goals set by someone else, the music I listened to, when I ate lunch, and what “work” looked like was set by someone else. I didn’t have to think too much about it. My first few years of teaching, I thought I might have some control over my day, but was surprised to find I had even less control than before. When I moved to my current school using gifted best practice to teach third and fourth graders, I had lots of freedom within specific parameters. I was encouraged to be creative in how I got the information to the kids, how they showed mastery, how to integrate other subject areas together… But we still had hours determined by someone else, duties beyond teaching, and projects of our own we wanted to explore.

The last three weeks have been incredibly painful for me. I have wanted to work from home for so long, but I find I crave feedback and those moments with kids and colleagues you can’t get when you’re working on things from your soffice (sofa + office = soffice). My schedule is wide open and I’m struggling with it. It’s not that I am lacking in tasks to complete–there’s plenty to do, including all those things I needed to work from home without interruption to do. But I can’t seem to get started on any of them. My coworkers help very little in that two of them nap the day away and the other demands walking meetings often and then contributes little when I ask for support.

From Keeva: What’s most important…

It’s as though I’m paralyzed, really.

Is this what I’m supposed to be working on right now? Is this what “they” need? Is this what I should be prioritizing? I’ve struggled with this the past two years–working so hard on a project that I prioritized only to find that it wasn’t priority for others and it gets set on a shelf for the later that never seems to arrive…and the disappointment that follows.

People are griping online about the multitude of meetings, but for me, those are the moments I feel like I’m contributing something. The online chats with others are helpful too–I do have things to say, information to provide, but I’m hesitating reaching out because surely their overwhelm must be greater than mine.

My feet are in two worlds again, this year and next, but this time there’s a third world complicating my need to control at least something in my world–stay-at-home orders and the possibility of being an asymptomatic carrier. (I used to joke about me never getting sick because I was a carrier of everything–I work in a petri dish after all–somehow it’s not as funny now.)

A podcast I listen to (and a friend reinforced the ideas) suggested that I look at what meetings are already scheduled and create a schedule for myself around them, with walking meetings with the canine coworker included, focusing on tasks to complete, just as I would if I were in my office anticipating interruption. She suggested that I break down each of my big tasks into much tinier pieces and schedule those throughout the week, celebrating the small bits I complete. Working 8+ hours right now isn’t necessary. The cognitive load is too much to try to put in “hours.”

A mentor reminded me that the most important piece of all of this is that I grant myself grace and not seek absolute perfection in anything. None of this will be perfect. We’ve never had to do this before, and I still get to design my job–it will just look a little different for a while. Allow the sway between work and taking time for me. Nap when it makes sense to nap. Add an extra walking meeting with the canine coworker. Snuggle the other two a while. But grant grace to myself and let myself have all the feels if that’s what I need right then.

So tonight as the snow swirled around my little red car, I went to my favorite brewery’s food truck and picked up pizza to bring home, put my pajamas on, turned on and listened to music that makes me smile, opened a beer, and sat on the floor at my coffee table with my dog next to me and my cats behind me on opposite ends of the couch to have dinner. I’ll go to bed in a while after another drink, and maybe then the tears will flow freely for all the movie premiers that will have to go online, canceled concerts this summer, spring drama productions, graduations of kidlets I love, and all those “last” moments I cherish every year.

We can’t control very much of this experience, so let’s control the few things we can.

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