Updated: Mar 12
As a teacher, you have created moments in a classroom of pure magic and true joy. You have sparked up the minds of students; lit them up with the power of ideas and knowledge. You have identified with being a good and generous teacher. But right now, not so much.
These days the top of the emotional playlist is on a loop of feeling irritated, fed up, distracted, tired. Sometimes you cry. Worse, you can not cry. It is March and it is month 12 of the pandemic. The job you love is near impossible to do. I’m talking adverse and shocking teaching circumstances. Virtual students are spinning in their chairs, your own wifi connection glitches, live students check their phones when you pivot to your zoom students, and after lunch your classroom floor looks like a pest buffet. There are engagement and attendance issues, a compromised student body. Your mom is sick. Your brother lost his job. You are trying to not fall apart.
But this is what education looks like in 2021 and we are professionals. Let us be reminded that education is not about us and it never was. It is about students. Every classroom in America right now has a student or two, perhaps more, who have measurable struggles at home. Even in wealthy districts there is housing and employment stress, substance misuse and abuse, relationship stress and instability. Every teacher has a student with problems that strike a chord: a mom who started drinking again, parents who are fighting in a scary way, an important person who is sick or recently passed. At the same time teachers are addressing these crises, they are also committed to propelling students into success; all of this while managing our own home-front challenges. But before you say you’ve had it, let me strengthen you with two of the Noble Truths of Hard Times. These two truths are stoic ideas that have guided me through my toughest days.
Noble truth number 1 is sometimes referred to as “The 40 Percent Rule.” This rule is followed by Navy SEALs, trained to be some of the toughest humans on the planet. When you feel that you are completely wiped out, you are actually only 40 percent done and have 60 percent in the tank. It is a tough rule, but science confirms that believing plays a critical role in achieving. In uphill battles, what else is there for us to do but believe that our reservoir of resource is deeper than we may understand and is available for our use. On the toughest days I have known I envision gathering myself, mentally amassing my reserves, psychologically tapping in, and then I step forward.
Noble Truth #2 is called “It’s In the Contract.” This is the 10,000 foot view idea that it is reasonable for us to expect that life will deliver us some rough patches. When we were born, we were promised future moments of joy, celebration, boredom, challenge AND pain. It’s in the contract. When our toughest moments come, it is not particularly helpful to feel that our otherwise good and decent lives have been robbed by hard times. Rather, it is the case that a good and decent life is guaranteed to pass through painful chapters. In my toughest moments, when I was divorced with toddlers, no support system, a delinquent utility notice plastered to my front door and totally overwhelmed, I would say these words to myself: it’s in the contract, so pick up ya’ face and remember who the hell you are.”
At my most overwhelmed, I was too overloaded to write a to-do list to give to someone else to complete. But here is what I did do. I wrote out a list of my life’s accomplishments. The ones that ranked under my own belief system. In sum, I took 5 minutes to remember who the hell I was. At the bottom of the list I wrote “I am not done” and I taped that list to the inside of the medicine cabinet where I would see it at least twice a day. Tough times are in the contract, so remember who the hell you are, remember your capacity, and take your next right steps.
Month 11 of a pandemic is a dark place. This year, we all hurt. Please, pay attention to whether you are taking on water. When you reach your point, go to a friend, a colleague, or the Happy YOUniversity community. Find strength in the Two Noble Truths of Hard times: You have more in your tank and you are the powerful person who created the list on the inside of the medicine cabinet. Feeling burned out may be an expected consequence of a global shut down, but it is also the opposite of where we most belong --seated in truth, connected to what gives us strength, able to do what we love with joy.
Mary T. Maran -Teacher, Trial Lawyer, Researcher. Ancient History, Social Organization, Economics, Nature.