Your worth as a teacher is not measured by how tired you are. It’s not measured by the number of projects you take on for the school. It’s not measured by that creeping feeling of desperation you feel as ‘report writing’ gears up. It’s not measured by how often you say yes to your principal, or colleague. Spending the first week of the holidays run down, sick and sick-of-it, is not a badge of honour.
So, why do we do it to ourselves?
There’s probably many reasons that teachers run themselves into the ground. For starters, you probably don’t become a teacher without some affinity towards people and helping people. Add to this a packed curriculum, and a perception by some sections of society that teachers don’t do a lot (arrive at 8:30, leave at 4, take 12 weeks off a year), and teachers feel the pressure to perform.
That said, many jobs have this same pressure, from lawyers and accountants to mechanics and posties. Across the board there’s a pressure to work hard, in fact harder than may be realistic.
What teaching does have, though, that other professions don’t have is children. There is a sense of responsibility that comes with teaching for that child, those students, in your class. At night, when you go home, there’s still those lingering questions in your mind. Did you differentiate enough? Are they actually learning anything? Is Angela a pain in the arse, or bored out of her mind? Is Dylan getting breakfast before coming to school, or coming hungry?
And so you push a little harder, sleep a little less, snap at your kids/partner/dog a little more. Instead of lesson planning on the first week of the holidays you spend it curled up on the couch with a cold.
To be honest, it’s this that inspired me to do what I do. I make learning resources because I know that feeling. I know what it’s like to be pushed, pushed, pushed. To be so deeply mired that even sleep isn’t an escape because when you’re not in the classroom, you’re dreaming of school. I make the resources I wish I’d had the time to make when I was in the classroom.
As teachers, as learning professionals, we need to stop thinking of burn-out as a normal part of teaching. It starts by saying no to unreasonable requests and it continues when we prioritise our time. We became teachers because we wanted to work with students, all our students, and help them to grow. There’s some things, like reports, that we may not like but that we have to do, and then there’s the things we do because we’re told that we should, but which don’t help us or our kids.