Death of A Martyr

These are some thoughts that cross my mind pretty frequently:
*I am overworked and underpaid.
*I'm a teacher. I don't have time to take care of myself.
*I'm a mom when I come home from being a teacher. I don't have time to take care of myself.
*There probably aren't any other professions out there that require a 60+ hour workweek, but pay you as if you only work 30. 
*If I didn't have to spend so much free time writing lessons, I would probably be a better friend.
*I am overworked and underpaid.
*I don't have the time/money/energy to cook healthy food for myself. I'll just eat take-out. Again.
*If I had an easier job, I'm sure I'd have the mental and physical energy to exercise more.
*I spend much more time caring for other people's children than my own. I have nothing left to give my family when I come home.
*I am overworked and underpaid.

This is embarrassing, but I could have made that list MUCH longer. Did you notice how similar many of those complaints were? How obnoxious. Who would want to talk to someone who is a broken record of complaints about the work that she does? Why would someone choose to be in a public service profession, and then whine about it 24/7?

Unfortunately, I am not the only teacher out there who gets bogged down in the negativity surrounding the education profession. But we all keep showing up to teach, year after year. Eventually, that bitterness will eat away at us all...we will begin to believe that we have no control over how miserable we are. We are teachers, so we must suffer. Being bitter about all of the things we think we don't have or can't do is totally justified when you have a job as taxing and thankless as teaching...right?

But we all forget about this thing we have called Mindset. 
I learned through some reading last year (Thank you, Angela Watson), that your mind is so, so powerful. It has held true this year. If I want to love my job and the life that I'm living, all I had to do was decide to love it. It actually was that simple. 
Making small mindset shifts throughout the week led to some big changes. 

If I feel like a standard is developmentally inappropriate, or I just plain didn't teach it well, I choose to focus on the kids I did reach that day, rather than the ones who seemed lost. 

If I am dreading something I have to do one week (report cards, grading a test, etc.), I choose to knock it out as quickly as possible early in the week. I know that if it is behind me, I will feel better. 

If I'm missing Isaiah, and I feel that pull to pout about it, I think about the kids in my classroom. These are their parents' Isaiahs. I need to focus on them while I have them. 

If I want to do something, and realize I don't have the funds, I choose to pray for gratitude for what we can afford. We own a home, two cars, and have a healthy baby that we can clothe and feed. 

After I put Isaiah down for bed, I choose to run. I focus on how much better I will feel afterwards, rather than on what a long, tiring day I had. If I dwell on that math lesson that didn't quite click, I will feel tired before I even put on my shoes. 

I work a true 40 hours a week now, with the exception of report card or parent conference weeks. I don't take many things home. If it will drain me and make me less excited to see my students the next day, I save it for planning time, or 30 minutes before or after school. I won't take it home unless I absolutely have to. I used to have the mindset that the best teachers worked crazy hours, or that it was physically impossible to work from 8-4 each day. I no longer believe that. With a little strategizing, and a ton of self-discipline, I am proof that you can be just as effective working less hours. In fact, I would argue that I'm proof that I am an even better teacher now than I was back when I was clocking 70 hours a week. I have time to recharge at night, and that has made all the difference.

I can't take all of the credit here. These ideas about Mindset and cutting back on hours are from other, better teachers who already figured out that you can gain energy from your career as a teacher, rather than letting it drain you. Spirituality also plays a big part here. Prayer really helps me. When I pray for the wisdom to lead the little lives I've been given this year, I have a MUCH better morning. But that's another choice I have to make each day. 

None of this is easy. It's really hard work to choose to to be positive. I have many, many days where I fall apart and lose sight of all of this. Today was one of those days. But I always manage to snap out of it and remind myself that I have the ability to make my day good or bad. And it's an explicit skill that I can model for my students and my own baby one day. 
We have the power to be the teachers we want to be, with the lives we want to live. You don't have to be the martyr among your friends and family, leading the tragic teacher life. All you have to do is choose. 

Stephanie Sutherland