I am a teacher. I’ve taught preschool, grades 3-8 and currently work with first graders. I’ve worked in two completely different school districts. One rural, one suburban. One low income, one highly affluent. But one thing has remained consistent across time and place- the passion, creativity, expertise and devotion of my fellow teachers. And the reality of exhaustion and burnout among almost all of them.

When I was a flight attendant I instructed passengers to, in the event of a change in cabin pressure, secure their own oxygen mask before assisting another. This bit of life saving advice has been applied across many fields, but not in teaching. In teaching, we are instructed to focus solely and completely on the needs of our students. Although not explicitly stated, the message is clear. The only people deserving of grace, effort, energy and sacrifice in a school building are those under the age of 18. A child hits you, and the primary concern is whether you responded in a manner that was respectful toward the child and her dignity. A child screams hateful insults when you request he complete a math assignment and you are asked why you didn’t scaffold more effectively and encouraged to implement a new system of rewards-based motivation for the child.

Inherently demanding work, teaching has been made impossible by contradictory and often ridiculous expectations. Make sure students are talking a lot to encourage language development and critical thinking, make sure they have a lot of choice within assignments and seating, allow them breaks and never take away recess, but maintain order and structure at all times. Ensure that all students are comfortable and happy but consistently challenge them and maintain high expectations. Take care that you thoroughly know each student’s interests, strengths, ability level across all subjects, personality, family background, pertinent health and safety information, and be sure to daily integrate these into whole class, individualized and small group instruction. What is considered “best practice” is constantly evolving due to some good research and a lot of passing fads, but make sure to keep up. You need to integrate movement, mindfulness, science, history, social emotional learning, technology, music and art but students must be highly literate, strong writers and skillful mathematicians as well. And don’t forget to have fun. Students should be engaged,so be excited and keep things short. But be clear so they know what to do. Consider every learning style. Make lots of posters, but don’t have an overstimulating environment. Your classroom should be attractive and welcoming. And also make it to the assemblies on time. Remember all special events and meetings. And respond to parents within 48 hours. And keep your class website up to date, and don’t forget your weekly newsletter. And make sure you’re regularly reaching out to parents to tell them the great things their child is doing. I know you’re working on reading assessments, but your bulletin board needs to look attractive too. Think about people coming into our school. And on, and on, and on.

The reality is this. It is too much. I’ve had some wonderful administrators over the years and the great ones always encourage self care. They would come by my classroom and urge me not to stay too late or come in so early. However well intentioned, my unspoken response was, “Okay. And what should I not do? What pieces of my job is it okay for me to skip tomorrow?” For many years, I assumed this was a rhetorical question. I carried on, literally running from one task to another from 6:30am-5pm, sometimes earlier and sometimes later. Not to mention work on the weekends. Until I hated every second of the work I had wanted to do since I was a little girl.

The journey I took from that place to where I am now is what my blog-teach-her self care is all about. If you’re looking for a space for compassion and perspective, you are welcome!