EQ, IQ, I Quit

People who care about me say that I am too hard on myself. Relentless perfectionism is something I rail against in students. I encourage them, make them smile, and then refocus on healthy mental choices. Why then is it so hard for me to take my advice?

We haven’t had a full week of classes in weeks. From scheduled half-days for professional development to field trips, the hurricane, and student-led conferences, my days have been packed with meetings, paperwork, preparations, bag lunches, late nights, shortened preps, report cards due, observations, and the technological resistentialism of broken copiers and spotty internet access. I’m frazzled–and the kids who miss the comfort of routine–are itching for more breaks. The school year honeymoon is over and reality is setting in: seventh grade isn’t going to just let you show up and get an A. This is going to take some effort.

Today, though, was a last straw. Not because of any one particular moment, but the weight of caring for so many at the expense of my own mental health overtook me. Teaching requires human connections and being real, being human with someone who is in a heightened state of emotion requires self-possession and an ability to compartmentalize that I lose when my batteries are low. One of those conversations? Ok. Two…and we’re stretching it. Three? Four? More. Relentless need. Relentless want. And I want to say, “Yes, I teach your child, but I spend less than five hours a week in your child’s presence. The average American spends more time in front of the television in a week than I spend with your child in a month. My attention and energy is divided among all the students I have in every class. Yes, your child is important to me, but so are all the rest.” But I don’t say that. How can I?

Just when I think I’m getting the hang of this teacher role, I have a day, a week, a month like this last one that leaves me gasping for breath and wanting to turn in my classroom key. I know it will be better, so all I can do is dust off the remains of the day and seek comfort in the oblivion of exhaustion-induced sleep.

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