Senioritis Sets In
About this time of year, I dust off my usual pep-talk regarding Senioritis. Come spring high-school students are sick of school work and early mornings, tired of sitting in classes and following rules, done with the drama and the pressure. What they are feeling is a common adult experience they need to learn to cope with since it will crop up no matter the jobs or life experiences ahead: Burn Out – the other BO — either way, it stinks.
“Senioritis” is usually the first time kids have truly felt adult level BO. Their energy and motivation levels wane, their enjoyment of what used to be fun stagnates, even their relationships suffer as they become testy, withdrawn, or short-tempered. Unbeknownst to them, teachers also get “senioritis” this time of year, though we might describe it as the doldrums, mid-winter blahs, or blues.
It’s not that we don’t love our work or our students, it’s just that the stacks of papers, club and sport organizing, PTO/A and union duties, district paperwork and assessment deadlines, that thing we promised to email someone, the ProCert or continuing ed assignment we need to finish, the parent contact we need to make, the classroom supplies we need to replenish, the kid we just can’t seem to reach, the TPEP data we need to crunch, the dishes in the sink, the flickering change oil light, the family reunion we don’t have enough personal days left to attend but Grandma really wants us there because Uncle Bill probably won’t make it next year, UGH the list goes on… forgive us, but we just start to BO!
Help, I’ve Fallen & Can’t Get Up!
So, what’s a teacher to do? Balance isn’t something I’m genetically programmed for: I’m a yes girl. I like to be counted on and involved, to be in the know. During the first three years of my career, I said yes to everything. I coached two sports, designed two curriculums, led four clubs, took on executive office in my local union, began National Boards candidacy, and participated in every single committee and professional development opportunity I was offered. I literally made my job my life. I know you understand; it’s a teacher thing.
Truth: it wasn’t good for me or my young family, or my students. Sure my students got a lot of me, but they got a very narrow slice of me. It’s hard to relate to someone whose every story is a classroom lesson. Someone who barely knows her family, who doesn’t pursue personal passions, doesn’t make time for her friends, who hasn’t even heard of the thing everyone is talking about this year.
Teachers tend to experience “cup runneth-ing over” syndrome, so creating balance is essential, though difficult. It took a little shaking up for me to make balance a priority. I thought balance was something I would “achieve.” Doing everything a little bit didn’t work out, and part time teaching just turned me into a fixture at my daughters’ school. Ultimately, I found balance to be more acrobatic than statuary. Ferlinghetti’s poem Constantly Risking Absurditysums up what a teacher artisan risks in front of the classroom, and reminds us that achieving balance is no static feat but one, rather, in constant flux. At times, we have to lean a bit one way or the other in order to stay in the game.
4 Tips for Balancing One’s Game:
1. Start with breakfast. Wake up and break bread with yourself. Whether you sit at the table across from the loves of your life and laugh over toast and jam, or sing songs at the top of your lungs while sipping coffee on your commute, or mix up a mug of oatmeal to enjoy in your classroom before the day begins, do something renewing, energizing, wakeful, grateful for yourself first thing each work day. Also, you need the nourishment, ’cause these kids take it out of ya!
2. Remember your friends. Lunch in the staff room, first Friday “tea” parties, bunco, Bible study, book club, motorcycle gang, family gamenight, concert going with your sweetheart: whatever keeps you connected to adventure, laughing out loud, letting off steam, ignoring the paperpile and email trail. Pursuing your own passions and staying plugged in to your support network makes you a healthier more whole you, and that makes you a better teacher.
3. Color code everything. This tidbit comes from my colleague, Hannah Webley, a first class educator I have the good fortune to teach alongside. Whatever you CAN do to keep the various balls you’re juggling on campus in order will benefit you by paying back small dividends of time and sanity. Start small with 1 or 2 strategies to stay organized. Whether you use file folders, clips, markers, buckets, binders, labels, or digital files, color coding can help you find resources at a glance and keep the clutter manageable. Then teach students to organize their resources and thinking with color.
4. Say NO! There is not so subtle pressure on teachers to give and give and give… or be seen as selfish, less effective, less caring. Those messages are illusions. You and your students deserve and need for you to lead a full life. Do several things on campus very well, then leave the door open for colleagues to jump in and serve, too. Sometimes they just need an invitation and the knowledge you’re there to support them.
Perfection isn’t worth the struggle. An acrobat sways back and forth – balance shifting one way and then the next. Wavering, she makes her way beaufully across the high wire. I’m still discovering balance that allows for a fuller life, but it’s worth each breakfast, each laugh attack, each pack of green clips, each no so I can say yes whole heartedly.
Please add your anti-BO strategies in the comments.