I realized something this past winter: For the past eight years I have given myself entirely to my teaching practice. This has had both positive and negative consequences. On the plus side, I have led many great educational projects, traveled far and wide as a result and even won some prestigious awards and grants. On the negative side, I have suffered physically and psychologically. I have worn myself out emotionally and have stressed my body near to a point of no return. This winter something clicked (after something snapped) and I realized things needed to change.
Enter photography! Well, ok, so photography did not single-handedly cure me of my physical and emotional stress. It did not repair eight years of giving and giving and giving. But, this little hobby has allowed me to accomplish a very important thing in my daily life— namely, spending more time with myself and for myself.
One of the things that became clear when I finally came to a stop was the fact that life was passing me by. For years I had been so busy that I was missing the moment. Living in the past and in the future, as too many of us do, caused me to miss the only real moments in my life— the present. Returning to my love of photography has allowed me to focus (literally) on the present moment. It has taught me to slow down and examine the actual seconds that comprise my life. When I am composing a photo, thinking about things like light and colour, there is no thinking of the past or worrying about the future. In this moment I am really in the moment—living the present!
More and more Canadian teachers are following suit with their American counterparts and burning out. For a while it was thought that our slightly better working conditions in Canada were to credit for our relatively lower burnout rate. This may not be the case. Burnout among educators may not be as simple as working conditions in a strict sense. That is, our pay, benefits, work hours, number of preps etc., may not be enough to prevent burnout. A more closely related factor may be the number of hours we give, and give and give, to our profession to try and meet the needs and demands of not so much the curriculum but the students in front of us. This is why many of the best teachers also happen to be the burnouts. It’s because they are not merely doing what is required of them but rather what is needed of them. There is a big difference. In all of this, these same people forget to take time for themselves and their passions, hobbies, interests and so on. Especially when we throw family and social commitments into the mix or perhaps a part-time graduate degree. Phew! It’s a wonder we function at all! So it goes.
Let me be clear. I am not simply recommending that everyone go out and buy a camera to cope with teaching. Not at all. What I am suggesting is that we all make a very serious point this summer of getting back to the things we love and enjoy. Whether that be taking a painting class, signing up at a kayak club or buying a ticket to India or even Indiana (I strongly suggest the former), we just need to make time for ourselves! We need to uncover and rekindle our forgotten passion. You know, that thing you stopped doing after you graduated from college. Get back to it. Go for it. What do you have to lose besides, of course, years of stress. Which brings me to my final point. We also need to take care of ourselves too! We need to make time to rest, relax and eat properly. Something I think far too many of us neglect during the school year. Our bodies literally cry for help because they do indeed need help.
My humble suggestion here is to start by reading The Cure by Timothy Brantley. This amazing easy-to-read book will change the way you think, eat and feel— the way you live. In fact, I challenge you to read this book and see if it doesn’t in fact change your life! Believe me, it will. I am living proof.
Have a wonderful summer! See you back in the classroom reinvigorated, reenergized and full of passion, excitement and good health in September.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Ernest Sweet
Michael Ernest Sweet writes, teaches and takes photos in Montreal, Quebec. He is the author and editor of more than a dozen books including his new collection of poetry, “Lucky Bastard.” Michael divides his time between Montreal and New York City and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s May/June 2011 issue.