Educators, by nature, are programmed to take care of others. It is what we do. And we do a darn good job of it. We get up early, go to bed late and give up portions of our weekends and summers so that we can become better. So that we can better help our students, our teachers and our colleagues. This is fine, and this is good.
But who is taking care of us?
Because from what I can tell, we don’t do a good job of taking care of ourselves. And that must change. If we continue to neglect ourselves, then we will no longer be able to take care of those we serve. Flight attendants remind us, “If you are traveling with a small child, please attend to yourself first, then the child.”
This mistake we often make is not an easy one to fix. And unfortunately, it usually takes something serious to wake us up and take notice. Each of the educators in this section reached a breaking point. But they were able to put themselves back together. And when we reach a breaking point—and we will or we have—we can put ourselves back together too.
You may be wondering why I mentioned that we all reach breaking points. I mean this book is supposed to help with stuff like that, right?
I bring this up because I don’t want you to think that because you reach a breaking point, that there’s something wrong with you. There’s not. As I mentioned, we are all card-carrying members of the breaking-point club. But we can put ourselves back together.
The thing we must do is admit we broke down. This is not always an easy thing to do. For some reason, we tend to wear busyness as a badge of honor. We are not allowed to be tired or take a day off. As an assistant principal who is responsible for securing substitutes, I often have staff apologize to me for having to leave school because they are sick, or they need to help care for a loved one who has taken ill. I have had people throw up and apologize to me for having to go home.
Please, please, please.
Admit you are tired or sick or stressed or just plain ol’ ready to lose it. It’s okay. Others will not think you are weak or soft or unprofessional. And if someone does, well then, they’re not someone you should be worried about anyway.
The second thing I have learned from others and much introspection is that educators feel guilty. Often. Any time not spent finding ways to help the people we serve tends to eat at us. Never mind that we work long hours. Never mind the fact that we often have little left for our family and friends because we have given everything at school. Never mind that we give up our Saturdays for Edcamps and our summers for professional development. We still feel guilty when we allow ourselves to stop just for a moment.
We feel as if we are letting others down when we take time for ourselves. That somehow, we are selfish because the time we spent reading a book for fun or taking a nap could have been spent thinking of ways to improve our classroom, our school or our organization.
But we’re not.
Letting others down, that is. What I have found is that it’s quite the opposite. The people we serve and the people we love want us to take care of ourselves. They do. Yet, we still don’t take time for ourselves.
Do you want to know how much you should be doing? I’ve interviewed over 120 amazing educators, and they talk about time management or mismanagement often. And I have learned that I have no idea how much you should be doing. Only you know that. I’ll say that again, only you know how much you should be doing. Comparing your daily accomplishments to others is not productive. Maybe someone organized their classroom library by reading level, created three bulletin boards and crafted a bookshelf from a tree in their backyard. That’s great for them. But that’s not you. You do you.
The third thing I’ve learned is that it is okay to ask for help. In fact, I encourage it. We are not meant to tackle life by ourselves. But we often feel as if we must. We don’t want to burden anyone with our problems or our worries. Nonsense.
The people you spend your days with—your students, your friends and your colleagues want you to reach out. They are waiting to help. They know that you would do the same for them. Odds are, you have done the same for them. Imagine what would happen if we stopped thinking we had to be superhuman and started asking for and receiving help whenever we needed it. Education is already an isolating profession. Start reaching out to each other in times of need.
Don’t be seduced by the workaholics on social media. You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t expect to.
When you’ve had enough, and you’re tired, and you’re stressed, just admit it. Try not to allow yourself to feel guilty for taking time and taking care of yourself. I realize this is easier said than done. But remember, you don’t have to go it alone.
And when you do, I promise one thing.
Someone will be there.
*This post was taken from a passage in my book My Bad: 24 Educators Who Messed Up, Fessed Up & Grew. If you enjoyed the post and are interested in taking a look at the book, just click HERE.