At my father’s funeral on a rainy day twelve years ago, the church was nearly empty and only two people cried.
My mom and I cried, and everyone else present stood dry-eyed, unperturbed, that a man who had lived 42 years on this Earth would be buried under mud.
But I don’t blame them. I know why they didn’t cry.
My dad was a man of integrity. But when he died in an accident, he was a shadow of his former self.
It’s the little things that chip away at your sense of self-respect as a teacher. The parent that screams at you over the phone at the end of the day because you disciplined his child. The parent who, across the table at a parent-teacher interview, tells you how to teach writing. Another parent who has a gripe with you, and instead of talking with you, emails your principal. The child who says, “My mom said that those who can’t do, teach.” The strangers who call your job “glorified babysitting.” Or the child you tutor who tells you that in his home country, he had two teachers who he called servants.
Yes, all of this has happened to me.
I can imagine you have experienced these moments too. You have been treated by adults and children alike like a dirty rag to be pushed around. I know other teachers have been treated with disrespect because their words and actions are telling. All of it may have even made you reconsider teaching and made you say things like this:
“I’m just a teacher.”
I have to stop you there. You’re not just a teacher. You are a teacher. You direct, guide, scold, and embolden the future. You encourage the gutless in the gutters. You set high standards your students cannot even envision. You rile kids up and take bullies down. You make speeches and promises and you deliver. You analyze novels and poems so deeply that these poems and novels—and even parts of life—become understood.
You are a teacher. That is nothing to be ashamed of, and it is nothing to hide.
To develop self-respect as a teacher, teach louder.
Don’t let anyone treat you like a dirty rag. Dress like a modern-day queen or king. Every day, prepare yourself for school. Iron your button-up shirt so firmly that the iron lines show on the arms. Starch your pants and brush the kinks out of your hair. Shine your shoes and look down in them to see your precious teacher face.
You are a teacher.
Respect yourself, and the rest will follow.
It’s that time of the year when a dry erase marker that won’t work or first block without your morning coffee is enough to flip your normally jovial, light-hearted self into a snarling, spitting cat.
Welcome to the end of the school year, where the survivors are few and the wounded many. You have made it through the morass of the school year—avoided the grenades, crouched low, staked out your territory—and made it to the other side of the trenches. This is no man’s land, but you—and a few other teachers who remain relatively sane—have nearly made it.
Any armchair psychologist need only survey your wrinkled teacher garb and your matted, knotted hair to identify your condition: end-of-year teacher burnout. But it takes a teacher who has been there and done that, one who has gained a degree in armchair psychology from The School of Life to advise a burnt-out teacher what to do about it.
While I may not a master’s or PhD, I do hold that precious degree from The School of Life, and here is what I know about end-of-year teacher burnout.
When I was a first year teacher now nearly five years ago, I knew as much about teaching as I do about the types of clouds or the kinds of rocks: I had a vague recollection of learning facts about these things in school long, long ago, but put me in a rock museum or ask me to describe the clouds above my eyeballs, and I’d be stumped.
As a first year teacher, my knowledge of teaching was academic. In teachers’ college, I had been fed from a trough of fun, impractical theories; I had viewed classroom simulations comprised of perfectly behaved adults who playfully mimicked rebellious teenagers; I drank Starbucks lattes and sucked on bonbons as my professors talked about creativity, fun, and social justice. In short, I had no idea what hell awaited me.
Here is my practical advice for first year teachers.