In the next 30 days, I will finish the school year, which includes packing up every last item in my classroom; I will also pack up my own belongings to move to another country. I will finish assessments, attend goodbye get-togethers, write report cards, work away at my virtual coaching and consulting business. Besides this, I know there are things I am forgetting or haven’t even thought of yet.
I am so blessed to have a job - I sometimes need to remind myself of that. Teaching is a tough one, though. There is always something else to do. Assemblies, meetings, field trips, emails, yard duty, etc., etc., etc.
So, I am busy, like everyone else, but I really do want the chance to write to my fellow teachers. There are a few ways this essay could go - I could offer “5 Tips for Surviving the End of the School Year!” or “Why Are Teachers Saddled With So Much To Do?” or maybe even “Why I am Giving Up Teaching to Live Under a Bridge”.
What I would really like you to get out of reading this, however, is to know that: you are not alone, you are allowed to say no if you don’t have time, and you should never feel stuck in teaching because you aren’t.
You Are Not Alone
Teaching can be a bit of a strange profession because - as I was told as a student teacher - everyone has been to school so there is often a sense that non-teachers know exactly what your job and work environment are like. In reality, however, teaching is a unique profession and that singular experience creates a camaraderie among teachers.
We understand the futility of looking for ‘balance’ when the school year is a series of busy times that flow into one another. We float along with it and mutually search for moments of peace and rest. Be there for your fellow teachers, especially those you see struggling. None of us is alone in this and one way to make things much easier is to know we can rely on others for help and support. Avoid gossip and negativity. Always try to put yourself in others’ shoes.
You Can Say ‘No’
One action I have learned to take as a teacher has made a big difference in my survival in the profession. Nancy Reagan had the right idea - Just Say No. Do not be afraid to politely refuse to do something that is outside your contractual obligations or genuinely impossible if you would like to maintain your sanity for a reasonable length of time.
‘...I would love to update that bulletin board, however, I do feel grading these recent assessments takes precedence at this time.’
‘...No, I, unfortunately, cannot cover that recess duty, as I have an engaging math lesson to prepare for this afternoon.’
‘...With all due respect, my students and I will be opting out of the presumably fascinating yet somewhat unnecessary “Wacky Larry’s Snazzy Acrobats” performance taking place in the gym during our reading time.’
You may be surprised how often a firm but respectful refusal, grounded in sound pedagogy, will be granted.
You Are Not Stuck
The above issues - non-academic events, teacher-stress, lack of support, among other things - are reasons I decided to take a break from the classroom. For the last 6 or 7 years, leaving has felt more like a vague daydream than a real option. The truth, however, is that stepping out of teaching is becoming a more reasonable option all the time. A simple Google search of ‘alternative careers for teachers’ will give you a few ideas to start. You do not have to stay in a mental or physical place in which you are unhappy. There are always options. Life is too short to be stuck.
While living under a bridge may just be your life’s dream, if you are choosing to stay above the bridge with the rest of us, please remember: you are not alone, you are allowed to say no, and you are not stuck.
I wish you only the very best as you close out your school year - whether for the first or twenty-first time. You have done, in this past year, some of the best work on Earth. Education is not an easy profession. Take good care of yourself.
Originally published on Your Instructional Blog.