Burn out.

Today I am not feeling very humorous. It occurred to me while I was sweeping my classroom this morning after a district fine arts meeting that I really just wanted to run away. I wanted to pack up my family and my dogs and my scrapbooks and head to a place that is completely school administrator and teenager free (I would make two exceptions: my daughter Libby and my Fine Arts Director, Kyle, who is an angel sent to this earth to fight for arts in schools). As I pushed the broom back and forth cleaning up the mess that my students had left and my assigned custodian had ignored, I remembered a story that my students told me Friday about a teacher on my campus who left mid-year last year. The official reason was health. The real reason? He had a complete breakdown one day in class. The other teachers in his department had to coax him out of the men’s room where he was hiding. He never came back. That’s actually the second of these stories in our district recently. A junior high teacher had to be taken away in an ambulance. She never went back either.

I have that impulse at least once a day. The urge to run outside to my car and drive away forever is a strong one. I usually either go to the girls’ dressing room for a breather, grab a broom and start sweeping, or get to my office where I play a CD of guitar music and try to chill.
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Part of the stress comes from the constant and unrelenting barrage of noise and the battle to keep students attentive. I really am a good teacher, lively and anecdotal, I try downright hard to make sure my lessons are a balance of quality content and fun application, but it’s hard to compete with the smart phones and the gossip and the silliness and the apathy. Part of the stress comes from fatigue. We teachers are doing so much work with fewer and fewer resources. That’s in every single department and grade level. Part of the stress is coming from administrators at both campus and central office levels who seem determined to add another brick or two to the load we are already struggling to carry. Add to that the pressure from politicians and parents looking for scapegoats and it’s difficult to stay positive. I know that my “positive and sunny” teacher voice is getting a little strained by watching my students. They pull back a little as my eyes widen to a point of comic exaggeration while I chirp instructions like a demented cuckoo bird.

I don’t want it easy. No one who wants it easy chooses teaching as a profession. Like nurses, firefighters, and police officers we choose service to make the world a better place. We know going in that the monetary rewards will be inadequate. We know we’ll put in long hours with little pay and less appreciation. But we do it anyway.

Twenty years of my life have been spent in the classroom. Countless papers have been graded, over 1,000 students have crossed my path just since I started at my current campus in 2006. Victories as small as overcoming stage fright or as large as winning a state Thespian scholarship have been celebrated. Students have walked away from our call board disappointed not to have gotten the role they’d hoped for, and jumped for joy when they saw their names on the All State cast list.

I feel deep in my soul that it’s time for a major change. I don’t know how to make it happen. I got a Master’s degree, but so far that has not opened any doors. I am trying to learn how to search for a job, but employers in fields outside of education don’t want to take a chance on a former teacher. Not in this economy, where so many experienced people are already in line for jobs. A friend told me I have to do more than just wish and hope, I have to take action. I am working on it, by God I am. Let’s just hope I don’t end up on a bathroom floor or carted off in an ambulance before the Universe decides to open one of the doors on which I keep knocking.

Friends, don’t let this worry you. I’ll be okay. Just anxious, like a kid waiting for a beloved parent to get home from work, nose pressed to the window. I’ll be watching. If my nose looks a little flat, you’ll know why.

4 thoughts on “Burn out.

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  1. I feel you. I expected being on my own to be hard… but not THIS hard. I have to say there have already been days when I cried the whole way to or from school. Heck I had a complete morning drama fest the third day of school… full panic attack… because the day before, on their first day of my class, 2 students refused to fill out an “about me ” survey. I ask all the other fine arts teachers if they are experiencing burn-out… they answer with a resounding YES. October 8th and we don’t want to come back each day. We do, because the future generations are important to us… they just aren’t important to themselves. They don’t care for fun unless it involves parties, gossip, drugs or fighting. They don’t care for simplicity, yet are willing to play the most difficult of video games. They are a generation of irony… and frankly I do not understand them. I am trying… I want to do ANYTHING to get through to them… my tactics all fail… horribly. I am discouraged and encouraged at the same time. I LOVE teaching… I think I am fairly good at it…I wouldn’t have gotten my degree in it if it was not something I wanted to do… BUT… I did not get my degree in live-action babysitting. That is what I feel like I am doing. Some people who walk in say I have a very peaceful and controlled classroom and I shudder to think what THEIR rooms look like. Mine is chaos… utter chaos. I love the moments when all is quiet and I am TEACHING and they are listening and learning… you know… that thing I was hired to do. Those moments come and go FAR too fast. I’m tapped out… I’ve used all my positive teaching energy on keeping these kids focused for 2 seconds so we can get through the next activity so we don’t fall behind. All of this with a pretty amazing administration… I understand where you are coming from and I also thank you for teaching me to care about their theatre education… to not live for my after school program and skate through the day. We are burned out because we care… there is the one grain of positive.

  2. You’re not the only one who has thought about getting in the car and simply driving away from it all. Luckily, sanity and reason return to me before I actually act upon my impulse, but it’s never very far in the back of my mind….of course, I wouldn’t get very far after the first tank of gas runs out (grin).

  3. Leigh, it does get easier, it really does. Especially the planning part. Becky, I have to remind myself constantly that I have financial obligations so I don’t run away! And I know I am not alone in that. Ellen, thank you so much. I am definitely loving writing, I just have no idea how to make it pay!

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