Do you ever feel a bit overwhelmed and frantic? If you are an educator, my guess is you said YES! Sadly, these feelings have become “normal” in our profession. We race around each day with little time to eat or go to the bathroom. We even make jokes about it! We cart home buckets of work for evenings and weekends. We postpone visits with doctors and trips to the gym. We even miss events with friends and family at busy times of the year. Put simply: Teachers don’t get much time for wellness.
This is my 13th year teaching. Work has always spilled into my personal life. For the most part, I’ve been able to find a balance that I could justify. (Read: Sometimes I work much more than I should, but I feel like the work is important enough to give up my time). I know that a lot of professions require people to work beyond their 40-hour work week. And I soothe myself with mantras about how the kids are worth it. Really, they are. It’s just that teachers are tired, overworked, and underpaid for the work they do.
This year, the ground dropped out. My second child was born in March and there simply isn’t personal time for working at home anymore. Imagine the horror! I still drag my cart of stuff home, but I usually drag all the work back to school the next day. Is this the Twilight Zone or something? These first two months of school have been like a frantic sprint up Mount Everest wearing a swimsuit in a snowstorm. I’ve been struggling because I care about providing excellent instruction—and I also love my family. To keep up with all my work and home responsibilities, I have given up sleep. Lots of sleep.
Then last week, I was sitting in a Professional Development about teaching emotional self-regulation to kids. Essentially, this is about controlling your feelings/actions and remaining calm no matter what is happening around you. It was a great PD and I was really dialed in. The presenter talked about how kids are more focused on learning when they are regulated and connected in a caring community. We talked about how kids feel and respond when they are dysregulated: distracted, anxious, and emotional. LIGHTBULB. These words were describing my feelings so far this year. Was I dysregulated? And if so, what actions could I take to improve my emotional well-being so I could be calm, focused, and flexible in my daily life?
I think dysregulation can be common for teachers. The more I think about it, the more I see the cycles I’ve experienced over my career. And there are plenty of reasons to be dysregulated. Last year, I wrote about the lack of time teachers reported in the 2017 TELL AZ survey results. I’ve written about the declining health of teachers. I see colleagues writing about large class sizes (Mike Vargas), the teacher shortage (Jaime Festa-Daigle), the struggle to implement new school programs (Amethyst Hinton-Sainz), and the fears of failure (Jen Hudson). As educators, there are many opportunities to get dysregulated as we tackle our responsibilities and face many obstacles that are beyond our control or prediction.
For me, using these terms “regulated” and “dysregulated” have been empowering. No one wants to call themselves “dysregulated” (even though we don’t mind calling ourselves “busy” or “stressed out”). Instead of accepting my feelings like they are part of the job, I’m being intentional about being regulated. I started thinking about how I want to feel in my classroom—and then I am choosing to feel that way no matter what other challenges come along. I’ve thought about strategies that help me get back to a regulated state as well. And overall, I’m feeling so much better at work and at home.
The bottom line is that teachers are a very important part of the classroom environment. Choosing the way we act and interact with others is more important than arranging desks or decorating bulletin boards. Kids are always learning from us. So being regulated is very important. We want kids to see us being calm, organized, and flexible because we want them to be calm, organized, and flexible. Teachers need to be the example. And we also need this calm state of mind to notice the small details about student learning.
So if you are feeling dysregulated at this busy time of year, you might want to read about self-regulation strategies. Perhaps you will brainstorm a list of strategies that calm you or read ideas from others about stress reduction for teachers. Seriously, you deserve it. And perhaps you will consider teaching self-regulation to your students so they learn to control their thinking and actions. They deserve it, too.
What are some things you already do to help yourself feel regulated? What are some things that make you feel dysregulated and what do you do to get past them? I’m looking forward to your comments. I’ll be adding some of my own ideas below as well!
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