Changing times and changing agendas make ever-increasing demands on both teachers and administrators. Today’s realities include staff downsizing, a crowded curriculum, increasing accountability, budget cuts and fiscal responsibility. Moreover, with dysfunctional families, loss of community and the barrage of electronic gadgetry screaming for the attention of our youth, educators are challenged today more than ever. Meanwhile, we are asked to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources. All this can have a tremendous negative impact upon a teacher’s life, resulting in a host of ailments and robbing us of what our jobs are supposed to be—an interesting and rewarding career.
While classroom management, effective teaching strategies, professional development and a good work ethic are extremely important in becoming an effective teacher, taking care of oneself is the first step in achieving that end. While we may be sometimes powerless in controlling the educational agenda, let us not allow the barrage of stressors to exact its toll on our mental and physical health.
Take the case of one educator, as an example. He can represent any one of us if we are not careful in looking after ourselves. The following is a fictional account of his story in a nutshell.
Joseph Stressoff had been looking forward to his retirement for some time. Having battled nearly every imaginable educational issue, Joe wanted out after 33 years as an administrator.
The past several years at Dire Straits Academy had been particularly challenging for Stressoff. The daily stresses he had faced at his former school, Agony Collegiate, were pale compared with what he experienced at Dire Straits. At this school Joe faced a multitude of problems: disruptive students, a dwindling staff, program cutbacks, public criticism, declining achievement scores, bomb threats, cyberbullying, and a host of other social and discipline issues. Meanwhile there were ever increasing demands from all stakeholders to deliver more with less. In recent years, Stressoff had noticed a sharp decline in his overall health. Because he had given so much of his time and energy trying to make the system work, he hadn’t taken care of himself. Many times during his career, Joe’s wife was convinced that he was married to his job, as he spent endless hours at the school away from her and the kids. And all those meetings… she wondered was it all worth it? You see, Joe was a worrier and cared so much about everyone, and yes, wanted to solve everyone’s problem. He was convinced that burning the midnight oil was the only way to “get it all done.” He had developed high blood pressure, frightening cholesterol levels, a nagging ulcer, psoriasis, insomnia, low self esteem, a negative outlook and chronic depression. In short, Joe was a broken man. Now that the big day was here, he wondered if he had anything left to retire to. In his concluding remarks at his retirement speech, Joe had this to say:
If I had my job to do over
I’d dare to make more
Mistakes next time
I would limber up
I would be more easy going than
I have been this trip.
I would take fewer
I would take more chances
I would take more trips
I would climb more mountains
And swim more rivers
Watch more sunsets
And spend less time at the office.
I would perhaps have
More actual troubles but I’d
Have fewer imaginary ones.
You see, I was one of those
People who lived sensibly and
Sanely hour after hour,
and day after day
and hardly ever smiled
because I worried too much.
Oh, I’ve had my moments
And if I had to do it all over again,
I would have more of them.
In fact, I try to have
One after another,
Instead of living so many years
Ahead of each day.
I was one of those people
Who would never go anywhere
Without my laptop,
A cellphone and a “to do list.”
If I had it to do it over again,
I would travel lighter next time
I would speak more from the heart
Leave the problems at school
Spend more time with the family
Limber up and have fun
Slow down and smell the roses
And take better care of myself.
It’s very tempting at times to be like Joe Stressoff. Teachers, by the very nature of their professions are caring people. Consequently we can be so engrossed in “getting the job done” we neglect our health and before we know it, we are coming down with a major illness.
I fought hard during my career to not be like Joe Stressoff. I tried to set realistic goals, I cherished my breaks, I took things less personally and I knew my limitations. But most importantly, I tried to find a balance in my career because I believed that a rich and varied private life is so critically important in order to complement the public one. I found that when you allow your work to be your whole life, then your health will suffer in more ways than one.
The old saying “an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly holds true regarding looking after ourselves so that we have the wherewithal to take care of the business of educating our most precious resource—our youth and the leaders of tomorrow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hector M. Earle
Hector M. Earle is a retired teacher/principal from schools in Newfoundland and Alberta. He is the author of the book, Death of a Race (DRC Publishing, St. John’s, NL).
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Nov/Dec 2011 issue.