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Use those personal days!

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11:30 a.m., is fourth period resource math class. We are a month behind in our standards. A quarter of the class is failing. Some need help with multiplication. Others need work on counting nickels.

So it only makes sense that last Friday at 11 a.m., I was 1,136 miles away from fourth period resource math class and combing through wool cable sweaters at the Banana Republic in the Rio Grande Valley. I bought one. It's white.

It is one of those forgotten lessons that is only briefly mentioned in teacher prep classes, lost among talk about significant gains, purposeful planning and never wasting a moment: Relax.

I flew to the very tip of Texas to visit one of my best friends who is in her third month of teaching ESL at a bordertown middle school. I brought workbooks for her to browse through. I showed her examples of how I do centers in my classroom. But most importantly, I showed her how to have a good time again.

That weekend, we slept until almost noon. We shopped until we dropped, at which point we started drinking margaritas and eating enchiladas de mole, a regional speciality. We drove to South Padre Island beach and watched the full moon rise.

One of the hardest things to do in your first year(s) of teaching is to relax. All that talk about significant gains and giving it your all is overwhelming. Couple that with everyday lesson planning, unruly behavior management and learning your content areas, and one is consumed. You break down, you cry, and ultimately, you burn out.

One of the best things that I did last year for myself was to drive to Canyon de Chelly with a good friend and a whole bottle of wine. No papers to grade. No computers or Internet to plan assignments or research best practices. It was a whole day wasted.

And it was a whole day to rejuvenate. I felt refreshed. I felt calmer the following week. And it made me remember that there is life outside of teaching. It made me actually want to stay in the classroom.

And so that is what I hope last weekend did. I hope my friend will remember that life is fun even when you're a teacher. I hope she remembers that significant gains are important, but taking care of yourself and staying happy is far more so.

From what I observe each day, one of the major contributors to the education fallout in the United States is teachers burning out. This includes good, enthusiastic teachers like my peers who have the potential to be excellent. When teachers leave schools, especially the underresourced ones, they create instability, unsupervised students, a loss of regular procedures and most definitely no significant gains. It's frustrating to watch the repercussions of teachers burning out.

But it's more frustrating to watch someone burning out and not doing anything about it. The Teach for America teacher I was placed with last year left in December. Substitute after substitute went through the class. Kids were unruly. Learning seemed optional.

Yet I was happy to see her pack her bags and return to the East Coast. She was unhappy. She was working herself sick toward those significant gains and no one wants to see a friend miserable. To this day I feel guilty for not being more supportive of her when she was beginning to spiral into burn-out. By the end, her leaving was self-preservation.

So this time, it felt like I had another chance to "save" a teacher, a friend. It cost a $300 airplane ticket, one and a half days away from my students and too much money on a wool Banana Republic sweater, but I'm hoping my point was made: Significant gains are important, purposeful planning is important and not wasting a moment is important. But having fun is necessary. Relax.

8 Comments

Of course you are absolutely correct! Relaxing and taking a day to zone out is the most important thing I did my first year of teaching, as well as subsequent years. Thanks for writing on such an important topic!

I read your blog almost religiously! Thanks for being someone I can identify with!

Thanks for the advice! I'm a first year teacher who feels like she's going crazy, and none of the seasoned teachers I'm around seem to understand. Even when I try to take one weekend day or even a weeknight off, I still have trouble relaxing because I'm worrying about all of the stuff I'll need to do tomorrow. All I can say is thank goodness for Thanksgiving break!

I am sitting here in my pj's at 10:04 am trying to relax on our school holiday (NO SCHOOL!). I am a second year teacher and I can relate to your article. I teach on the Navajo rez also in NM. I have been having the same revelations as you, I can't believe how much teachers have to work beyond the classroom periods. I want to do it, but I have been feeling burnt out lately and questioning myself. I know I want to be the best teacher and have my kids really learn, but that does come by doing the same thing day after day or does it? How do seasoned teachers do it? I am trying to develop my bags of tricks, but at the same time I am always finding new ways of teaching something I want to try. My one professor said that I have to remember is that we, teachers, are professionals and like any pro we need practice to be perfect. So one day I will be at ease with all the lesson planning. But I too will escape the classroom and relax as much as I can. Gotta go to the classroom now, time to catch up on those papers and lesson plan for Thanksgiving!

Teaching has it's burdens, its multiple. Happiness should be a chief concern of human life. We all do not pursue that. Those that do are healthy minded or should be regarded as healthy minded. Redefining happiness and pursuing happiness is vital to pleasant, good, and meaningful life. A job that is extremely fulfilling and extremely demanding, and feeling overwhelmed will cause burnout. There is a thing called the burnout syndrome and it's very scary to end up in a hospital because of it. It's a state of mental and physical exhaustion. It is a state of overengagement in work. The level of control over your work is another factor. This can all be a vicious cycle if we are not aware of it. Stumbling gratification crisis. Victims are always the last to know. These days for some, our professional characteristics that guarantee success we have to say good bye to. Trace things back to your childhood that happiness came from and you may find the key. In elementary school, we can find that connection with our students. Master new skills and you'll never go wrong. There are antistress measures use them; simple and effective. Equilibrium. Goodluck everyone.

I know exactly what you're saying - about the relaxing AND the crying. Other teachers, even new ones, seem to have it all together - and I'm a mess. And my class keeps growing, too! I got a new student today, just over a week before Thanksgiving.

And yet, election day was one of the most relaxing days I've had in months. I don't know why; maybe it's because I only had Monday to reflect on. But it was glorious! I didn't even break down into my Sunday blues.

There is an art to destressing--and if we don't learn it, we pay the price: I was sick for three days this week! Lots of flu symptoms (I'll spare you the grisly details) and many naps later, I've started to learn my lesson: Slow down, take it easy, I'm dispensible.


It was in a way nice to hear that not only schools and teacher education colleges in India face this problem and tug of war between using every minute and making significant gains as against relaxing and rejunivating oneself. i am going to take out a printout and put it up for my teacher-trainee students. It would make them feel better.

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