Near Drowning

By Amanda VossApril 26, 2019

Being a teacher has its “feel good” moments. These moments are like walking along the shore of the beach with my feet in the sand and water brushing softly over my toes. The sunset is warm. My students are doing exactly as I planned. And then reality hits like the biggest wave scooping me up and carrying me away. Before I know it, I feel like a teacher so weighed down by a growing to-do list that I am drowning in waves that just keep coming.

This feeling hit hard in early February when my teaching partner was out often for personal reasons, our Special Olympics basketball season was in full swing, snow days were frequently occurring, and I just felt like I couldn’t get a firm grasp on any part of my life. I was at the point where I could barely catch my breath anymore. My students were lacking routine with our schedule. I was going stir-crazy not having consistency with unexpected days off due to inclement weather as well as the constant rescheduling that had to happen because of these days that were taken away from us. We’d have a snow day (or five), then come right back and jump into traveling to a rescheduled basketball tournament or a grocery shopping trip or academics that were put on hold from two weeks prior. When various disabilities and student needs were thrown into the mix, I felt trapped because I simply couldn’t keep up.

My mind constantly felt like it was running at 100 miles per hour. I couldn’t sleep at night because I honestly felt guilty for taking that much time to myself and away from my students when I could be doing much more “productive” things—adjusting my classroom, preparing a better lesson, or figuring out new ways to get my students back on track. All I could think at this point was, I can’t do this anymore. If I don’t take care of myself, how am I supposed to take care of my students? This was the breaking point.

The only way I could bring myself back to shore was through finding that balance of work and my personal life again. There is such a strong stigma for teachers to reach the conclusion that this kind of lifestyle—always feeling one breath away from drowning—is just part of the job. I was determined to break this stigma and not fall into the statistics of being another teacher to burnout. I tried some new self-care strategies as well as some old ones from my college days to combat this near burnout stress.

  1. I started going to the gym again. I realized that I had so much pent-up energy mixed with stress and exhaustion, and I needed to find relief through weights and some good music. This has become my regular “me time” that I need on a near-daily basis in order to keep up. The gym forces me to focus my mind on something other than work, and I am at the point where I start to crave that workout when I’m getting stressed during the day.

  2. I reached out to some of my favorite people. I noticed that I was getting so caught up in my job that I would forget to respond to messages, not have the energy to call my parents, and turn down friends wanting to get together. The teacher guilt of “I could be doing something for my classroom” is real! When I do make phone calls or say yes to a coffee date, I stay grounded in what’s important to me.

  3. I joined a small group at my church. At first, I was nervous knowing that this meant I’d have to give up two hours a week to meet with the group, yet Tuesday nights have become the part of the week that I look forward to the most! Again, by remaining grounded in what matters to me will help me stay afloat.

It pays to put in the effort to find those blissful beach moments in the classroom.

When you take the time to take care of yourself, you’re able to notice the simple moments that are worth cherishing. Those little moments are the ones that matter most. In looking at the school year overall, students will most likely remember who you are as their role model rather than whether your lesson plan was top notch!

About Amanda:

Amanda is in her first year of teaching after graduating from Grand Valley State University in April 2018. She works as a Special Education Teacher for students with Mild Cognitive Impairments at Kenowa Hills High School. The most rewarding part of her job is being able to guide her students in developing the necessary skills to become as independent as possible. The way their faces light up when they have those “lightbulb” moments is priceless!