Today when I logged into my blog, I had to change the background. Seeing something that reminded me of school made me not want to write. Apparently, teacher brain has its limits, and I’ve reached them. This week is about delineating work and home. It is also about consciously working toward happiness.
Yesterday was a rough day of school. The students were extra challenging, my air conditioning broke, and I found myself trying to have a chips and salsa party in a room full of thirty sweating 9 year-olds. The combination of 85 degrees Fahrenheit and 25 grams of sugar in the “natural” box drinks that I purchased was too much. Note-to-self, I am not the kind of teacher that enjoys unstructured time.
It seemed like a good way to help them remember our acronym for editing and revising (CHIPS & salsa), but it turned out to be more of a headache than it was worth. I spent the whole day trying to keep everything positive so that we would not lose our party by the end of the day, but it tanked by 2:30 PM when the sugar and the heat hit simultaneously. Today I made up for it by being lightning fast in my consequences and allowing the tone to shift into negative territory when it needed to, (something I avoided yesterday), and it felt so much better. I admire teachers who can keep it positive ALL the time but I also recognize that for my own sanity I have to use what works for me, which is a combination of both negative and positive tones. I feel like I learned a really important lesson.
After my semi-disastrous Monday, (I’m sure it wasn’t entirely disastrous, it just felt that way to my OCD, perfectionist self), I came home feeling really unhappy. Being a little on the OCD side of the spectrum can be dangerous as a teacher. Not only can it keep you in your classroom far beyond the call of duty in the evening rearranging desks and tidying up the upheaval of the day, but it can also result in an unrealistic expectation of what teaching should look like. Yesterday I was feeling really down on myself for not being able to successfully use a positive vibe all-day-long to trick my students into being complacent angels.
When I got home, I found myself calculating how my teaching career could be a stepping stone to something else that interests me, like policy work, curriculum design, a PhD, founding new schools, writing… And that’s when it hit me that I’m back to a spot that I routinely get to where I have to take control of my own happiness instead of counting the days until I can be happy again. Happy now, no matter the circumstances, instead of happy someday.
As I’ve said before, happy for me is sometimes a conscious effort, instead of something that just magically happens. As I pushed my tired body through an hour of yoga last night, I really focused on what I want and what motivates me to teach. Already, teaching has been such a roller coaster for me. I’m obviously passionate about it and why it matters, but some days are really hard. Some weeks are really hard. As it’s turning out, some months are really hard. Spending 60+ hours a week doing a job that is far underpaid for the amount of expertise, energy, and love required can feel confusing. I’ve heard it called the hardest job on earth, and some days it feels like it. But, the challenge is also what keeps OCDers like me enthralled. It is such an intricate web of demands that I feel much more engaged and mentally stimulated than I did writing economic reports on some very complex topics (mezzanine loan structures anyone? Bueller?). It’s funny, when I was fresh out of college, I always assumed that teaching elementary school would be too elementary to be engaging, but so far I am very very very wrong.
That said, I still don’t know that teaching is the key to my long term happiness, but last night the conclusion that I reached was that it does not matter. Instead of thinking long term, I need to think right now, which is teaching. How do I make the most of each day and consciously cultivate happiness?
Ironically, part of the answer to this question is creating clearer boundaries between work and home, since it has all been blurring together lately. The biggest irony of this is that I started my blog today by changing the background away from school but it is still all that I ended up talking about. Oh well. I guess that teacher brain prevails again. The good news is that I’m already feeling happier in my reminder that happiness is sometimes a conscious process. I’m also happy in my hell-bent desire to take a good vacation soon. The only question is tropical, South America, or Europe… At least I have the time off to make it happen!
|Even a weekend in Tahoe is sounding pretty damn satisfying about now. 😉|
Sounds like vacation time is getting close!
You could have changed the word teacher to Mom, and I could have written this about the week I've had with my kids. Teaching (and parenting) is grueling and often thankless work. The rewards, although not always obvious, are what keep us going. When you see a child that you have cultivated grow and blossom, you know that even those most grueling days were worth it.Thank you for doing an incredibly important job, Olivia.
Thanks for the words of encouragement Chloe! It's funny that you mention the overlap with being a mom because I often think to myself, wow, this will come in handy when I have kids someday! And, I know exactly what you're saying about seeing the growth… Last year I became very attached to my students and this year I'm beginning to feel little tugs of affection and pride in their accomplishments… I know that the more the year goes on, the more I'll feel this and the more it will feel worthwhile, thanks for reminding me of it 😉