I have a friend who is a storyteller*. This weekend she wrote about her experience as a stage manager and suddenly having to take on a role when the actor became ill just before showtime. A phrase from her piece hit me hard this morning: “The imposter doing her best.” While there was much more to her piece to take away, this was the thing that stuck…like superglue holding my faux leather chair together because a condo-sized border collie chose to pull it apart in frustration when her ball got between it and the crate…this is when thumbs would have been useful.
For the past several months (almost two years…gah), I think most of us in education have been Fezziwigging our way through every day for 24 months. Holding ourselves together with tape and pins, tossing out what lines and gestures don’t make sense in the moment, all the while trying to protect the production we have come to know as “school” so that our kids were impacted by the mess the last two years have created as minimally as we could manage.
But the mess remains.
No one sees what’s backstage.
Backstage, educators are broken and grieving oh-so-many things. Their hearts are in pieces. They’re questioning their purpose, their education, their role…their future.
What they knew of their identity as educators has disappeared. The way they see it, the lines and stage directions are completely different than they were 2 years ago.
And some aren’t sure what role they want to play in the production anymore. Educators are leaving the profession–not for other teaching positions, but for other lives altogether. Fezziwigging every day for 24 months has taken its toll.
Some want to blame administrators and districts for changed and increased expectations. To be honest, if we look at a list of expectations for teachers prior to March 13, 2020 and after it, there’s not much difference. The time between was what changed–teachers had to modify everything–change the way they taught, the way they provided intervention, the way they communicated with colleagues, kids, families, and how they determined what “learning” looked like and what teaching looked like. Administrators took on roles that were never in their job descriptions–everything from contact tracing to media relations to referrees.
Trying to go on stage again the way you had in the beforetimes after trauma like this is impossible. The constant worry about who will throw the tomato first is added trauma.
Everything is heavy. (Thank you to another friend for giving me the word when I didn’t have the word for it.)
Non-educators telling us that everything we gave for over a year was for naught and kids are “behind” isn’t helping with the weight, tbh. Neither are those pushing legislation that is beyond impossible to make happen…another rant for another day. This is all heavy.
A colleague told me that I’d become impersonal in our interactions a while ago when we met to talk because I launched right into the purpose of our chat, asking questions to make sure I was on the same page, probing for more information when the responses were short, sensing growing irritation from both of us.
They were right. I was impersonal. I was purposely impersonal. Being personal required additional emotional engagement that I didn’t have the space for. Anything they might say would add to the weight I’d already been carrying.
On a typical day, by 2pm, I’ve taken on the unhappiness of others in lots of situations, the frustration of stakeholders, the upset and conflict between kids, held space for the fear and sadness of others, and wasn’t able to do all the things for all the people who wanted and needed me to do the things. I know I’m not alone in this. There is only so much space we can hold, so many emotions of others that we can carry.
So yes, I was impersonal. I had Fezziwigged all day and the pins and tape were literally the only thing holding me together as our time together began. When I left for the day, the pins and tape fell to the floor. One can only Fezziwig so long before everything falls apart.
Everything right now is heavy. The pins and tape can’t last.
I have empathy for those choosing to leave education. I wonder if this is what I want to do on a fairly regular basis too. I have worked my whole life for this opportunity. But Fezziwigging (yes, it’s a word now…because I said so.) takes a toll. And we’ve done it for too long.
Just imposters trying to do our best. Doing what gifted people do…adding masks and armor as needed.
*If you would like to receive the storytelling my friend provides, go here: https://bit.ly/3p5X47f