Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Guilt v. Burnout

Sunday night, I lay awake thinking about the week ahead, fantasizing about calling in sick on Monday... and Tuesday... and every day following. I don't really want to quit, but I'm having a really hard time taking back the extra class. The beginning of the week is the worst, two days of almost no free time, plus the new tutoring. We are taking a two-week hiatus from our after school program, starting up again after vacation, and if this week feels like too much, I can only imagine what it will be like with the extra class, two days of tutoring for 75 minutes each, our 6th grade team meeting Tuesdays post-tutoring, and then two days of after school for two hours each.

And then two things happened. First, we found out that only 1 of our 8th graders got a specialized high school acceptance (to Bronx Science). Second, it occurred to me that I could stop teaching after school. Other teachers have. In fact, one of the many extra hats I wore last week was that of after-school teacher rustler, trying to coax more teachers into offering some kind of enrichment program.

I decided to quit HS Prep.

I like the kids in my HS Prep class. It doesn't take that much prep time. I think it's good for them to spend time with each other and with geeky me, working on hard practice problems and learning to do tricky math problems in their heads. But I'm not convinced that I get anyone into any specialized high schools. A few kids come in and get 25 out of 30 on the practice test the first week; the others get 6 or 8 or maybe 11 out of 30. A few months later, the first group is getting 28 out of 30 right, and the second group might be up to 10 or even 14 out of 30, but it isn't going to be enough. I can tell you right now that 2 of my 6 kids have a chance.

I felt this huge weight lift from my shoulders. It's such a small group, and I don't think it's even helping them that much, and I could get my Wednesday afternoons back.....! I'd miss that group of kids, I'd miss the money, but the time - o, the time!

I told my AP. She told my principal. Who promptly spent 30 minutes talking me into continuing the program. Just because only 1 of our 8th graders got in, that's something to celebrate, not a reason to give up. Some bigger schools get no acceptances! We have commitments to the kids, and to their parents. It's good for them. Can't we find a way to make it easier for you? Can we buy materials and just have them take practice tests? Is there something on-line, some CD-ROM, anything? The final decision is up to you, she said, but I really hope you can find a way to make it work.

She's right, of course. And yet, I know that sometimes you have to put yourself first.

And so the decision has not been made yet, and the burden is back on my shoulders.

God, I am ready for this vacation.


Blogger Alexis Walker said...

Hang in. February is so hard. Everybody is testy. Take care of yourself.

A "mental health" day isn't the worst thing in the world.

10:04 PM  
Blogger posthipchick said...

Don't burn out.

This year, due to the in utero circumstances, I vowed not to do ANYTHING extra. Do you know how hard that is? It's hard. But you have to put yourself first. Don't get sick because of the job. You do way more than enough. It will be ok.

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Chris Lehmann said...

Best advice I can give...

Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to find the ways to marshall your energy over the long haul.

There's always more to do.

There's always another student to help.

There's always an activity to run.

Ask yourself: If I do 'X,' will it cause me to be that much worse at the other things I do?

If the answer is yes, you've hit the breaking point and don't do it.

Good luck.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I think you should go with your gut here. Time is very important when you are a teacher, esp one that is so dedicated to her school. With all the responsibilities the adminstration is weighing on you, something has to give. I think you should stick with your initial gut decision...its most likely the right one and the best for you. After all, you're no good to anyone or for anything if you run yourself ragged.

11:30 PM  
Anonymous Schoolgal said...

I am glad to see you are starting to think about doing something nice for yourself.

You just completed so many hours of Robotics and your other duties take up just as much energy.

If you feel an obligation to keep up this pace, the result can be teacher burnout.

I am happy that my afterschool program is ending soon. I am wiped out by the end of the week.

And for those that think teachers have it easy, they should be required to read your blog daily.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Polski3 said...

"Physician, heal thyself" Likewise, "Teacher, do what you need to do in order to survive."
You CAN'T do everything!

11:50 PM  
Blogger Ms. H said...

Aha! There is a reason I decided to read blogs when I should be getting dressed and running out the door! Glad I stopped by.

I have a horrible, horrible time standing up to my principal when she's trying to get me to do something. She once tried to make me take a student teacher when I definitely wasn't ready for it. I told the literacy coach that I'd quit if she [p] made me take her [st], so she [lc] advocated for me so I wouldn't have to do it.

I agree with all the other comments. Please, please, please give yourself a break. I know that for me, outright refusing to teach after school or summer school anymore makes a big difference.

Oh, and our SHS acceptance numbers went down too. I wonder if this year was a tougher one.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Miss Malarkey said...

Good luck with whatever you decide. I used to do after school, Saturday school, vacation academies, summer school. And I got to a point where I just couldn't do it all anymore. I missed the money, but I had also just gotten married, so there was no contest really.

7:46 AM  
Blogger The girl who painted trees said...

Please give yourself a break. You sound like a marvelous, dedicated teacher. Your students and your school are very blessed to have you. However, if you burn out because you weren't able to say no to one thing, then no one will have you anymore. A mental health day is a good reason to call in sick. Exhaustion is also a good reason to call in sick. You don't have to feel guilty about that. Health includes mental health, too. I'm a teacher, too, and it always gets hard at this time of the year. Your students need you to be well. One of the things I remember the most about teacher college was that they told us that the number one thing to be an effective teacher was to take care of yourself.

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the rest of your fans. When you pick up something new (the extra class), you have to give up something to make room for it. Perhaps the principal could hire a long term sub for the extra class so you would be back to a normal work load, and then you could continue doing the after school class??? Yes, I know that isn't going to happen, but it's something that principals can (and sometimes do) do. It's not, in fact, solely your responsibility that you no longer have the time to devote to the after school program. Good luck!

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Muriel said...

I too agree with the rest of the crowd. If you're feeling like it's all getting to be too much, it probably is.
I also tend to get involved in way too many things and I owe my sanity to my supervisor who actually forbids me to take on too much stuff.
I've read time ad time again that being a great teacher is also about being good to yourself. Take some time off and take care of yourself. Coming to class with a positive attitude and energy is essential to success.
Keep your spirits up....

12:49 PM  
Blogger fachingnuts said...

Alexis is right - February really is a terrible month for school. It just DRAGS.
I totally see a video day in your future. Or a mental health day. :)
The point it, do take some time for yourself. Go get a pedicure this weekend. Rent some movies and eat a bunch of popcorn. Just take a load off and rejuvenate.
Good luck with all this!

1:42 PM  
Anonymous emily said...

one of the other things you are going to do by taking on too much is create more anxiety attacks. one of the best remedies i've found for those (aside from running) is to be sure to have some time in my own space to just sit there and revel in it, read what i feel like, write what i feel like, stare at whatever wall i feel like looking at. it doesn't sound like you do that seems to me that someone is always going to be ready to take whatever you can offer in education; the responsibility for drawing the line comes down to you alone.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Frizzle:

According to you:

"She told my principal. Who promptly spent 30 minutes talking me into continuing the program."

In other words, your principal is going milk every last drop of enthusiasm out of you, and when it's gone, it's gone.

Do less. Less is more.

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Mary said...

I think you're amazing and already doing more than enough for these students. I sometimes forget in my own job that I am SUPPOSED to have a normal social life and personal time because it is so easy to sacrifice that time for the good of others. Then you crash. All is love from STL.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Chaz said...

Ms. Frizzle;

Surprise, i agree with everybody else. "YOU COME FIRST"! The main cause of teacher burnout is doing too many things and not having enough time for yourself. Remember, your school has screened students, meaning they are academically able to handle school curriculum without you for a day or two.

As for your principal, she should be ashamed of herself, instead of seeing the warning signs of teacher burnout, she spent 30 minutes convincing you to stay on and accelerating the burnout. She should be supporting you and making other arrangements. The last thing she wants is for you to leave the school.

teaching middle school students is no piece of cake and a mental health day or two is necessary for teachers, including you!

6:09 PM  
Anonymous KEarner said...

I think you should do it, why should you have any time or energy to devote to yourself?

See how crazy that sounds???

Don't let her talk you back into it, you already made your decision and you should stick with it:-)

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would you agree to the sadomasochistic urgings of your principal, who clearly only wants to use you for as long as possible before replacing you?

If people weren't driven by idealism to do far more than anyone has a right to ask, the system that abuses those idealists would have to change.

However, as long as people believe they are doing good by trying to do everything, the system will accomodate them until they drop.

7:29 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...


I can be alone on this one. I do not want you to quit. But... I have minimized my own per session over the years to 1) those things that are truly necessary to the job 2) those things that really feed my ego and 3) those things I really love too much not to do.

And each year, the number of things in each category diminishes.

When I teach fellows or new teachers, I tell them not to take any per session in their first year unless they are absolutely desperate for cash. "There is a name for someone who will do anything for money." I also warn them that their principals will offer them per session as if they are doing the teacher a favor. Yeah, right.

Then there's the small school thing at play - they guilt us, they say everyone needs to pitch in, we know all the kids, etc, etc.

And so my professional advice agrees with everyone who posted before me. (I mean this)

But still, I wish you wouldn't quit. (I don't think I really mean this)


9:52 PM  
Blogger Elohimus Maximus said...

Να σκεφτείτε ότι είστε διασκέδαση, αλλά συμπαθώ στη διασκέδαση για με τη διασκέδαση στη διασκέδαση, είμαι διασκέδαση, αλλά η διασκέδαση για με είναι διασκέδαση, στη διασκέδαση πρέπει, να έχει τη διασκέδαση διασκέδασης διασκέδασης. Το OH, και δεν προσπαθεί να είναι πνευματώδες και να αφήσει ένα σχόλιο στην περιοχή μου. Ακριβώς ξέρτε ότι έχω και θα κερδίσω πάντα ενάντια στο είδος σας. Θεός 1 αμαρτωλοί 0 TCOJCOEMLDS

10:52 PM  
Blogger Elohimus Maximus said...

for all of you who don't speak greek. it means: You might think that you are fun, but I like to fun for me fun to. fun, is fun, but fun for me is fun, to fun have, to have fun. fun fun. Oh, and don’t try to be witty and leave a comment on my site. Just know that I have and will always win against your kind.
God 1
sinners 0

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Schoolgal said...

Even in English, the above comment is still Greek to me.

Let's us know what you decide to do about the afterschool program.

Have fun in Amsterdam!

11:32 AM  
Blogger NYC Educator said...

Elohimus Maximus has got to be the most Elohimus I've ever encountered.

5:40 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Machine translation does not work especially well, and even compares unfavorably with a poor human translation.

Still, it's fun. Translate back and forth, or worse, telephone style from english to dutch to french to german to english.

* The machine translation functioned not particularly good, and is not with a bad comparable human translation even unfavorably.
(E --> Ne --> Fr --> D --> E)

And then, if you still understand, go to russian or japanese and back again.

11:16 PM  
Blogger graycie said...

One of my principals said that education is the only profession where we have "planned non-completion." We just can't do everything that is required at the level that is asked for. You are already far beyond the norm -- in an amazingly positive way.

Triage, girl, triage. You can't help'em if you are in the corner, twitching and weeping.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Kris said...

No advice - there's plenty of it here - but have I mentioned the fact that I think public school teachers are grossly underpaid for the work they do??

Hang in.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Fred Wright said...

There is some really great advice here. I still go through these feelings after 18 years of teaching in the city. I still work too much. My wife and I argue about it every week. I can't help it.

A few things I have learned:
The obvious victories are just that. You know you scored big helping that kid get into a great program. That's great!

The other victories you don't even get to know for years to come. When I started running into adults that I taught and they say I helped them try harder or that they went on to something to raise themselves up because of me, it really chokes me up and makes it me feel guilty. I feel guilty because I could have done better. I get choked up because more children need to know they can do whatever they want in life. You might be the only positive kernal that needs a few years to sprout into a victory.

I run into old students all the time all over Queens and Brooklyn. I do not even remember many of their names and many tell me I was the only teacher that cared about them. I do not believe that I was the only caring teacher for one second but those kids remembered my attitude toward them at that time for whatever reason.

Just for the record, some of them won't even look in me in the eye or are snotty to me after they recognize me!

I have faith you will find a balance of how much of yourself to give.

9:52 PM  
Blogger el hongo said...

many years ago, I once complained to my boss at ‘Initech’ that I was burnt out, after my 10th straight, stress-filled 12-hour day. his response? he told me that I was never on fire. ouch. and, I didn’t even have the energy to debate him on that point. regardless, his comment made me realize that the only person who truly has my best interest at heart is me.

from what you’ve written in this blog, it appears that you care a great deal about the kiddos. finding more time for yourself doesn’t mean you care any less about the just means that you care more about your own well-being. in the long run, that ‘selfishness’ benefits the students in the form of an even-keel teacher...who still cares.

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Soonty said...

I've been teaching for two years now and I am quitting! The children are fine, but I don't like working with my principal or most of the other teachers. It made me feel good to think about all the other things I could be good at, and I think that helps anyone who doesn't like their job anymore.

5:46 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home