I haven’t showered or brushed my teeth in three days, I’ve been reusing dirty dishes, and I lost my dog in a pile of used tissues. Hey teachers, how was your Thanksgiving weekend?
Why do we martyr ourselves?
I used to eye with suspicion any student who spoke with a gravelly voice and keep my distance from the coughers and the sneezers. “Why did they have to come to class and share their germs?” I’d moan to myself.
I avoided touching their notebooks and tried to answer their questions from the front of the class instead of next to their desk. This was pre-pandemic, and it wasn’t out of a fear of germs. Who doesn’t resent any possibility that some of my precious weekend time might be taken away and replaced with sick time?
But it’s different for teachers. I wouldn’t have to give up fun weekend plans because I caught a bad cold from a student because I didn’t have those kind of plans. I NEEDED the weekend to catch up and prepare for the following week. I needed EVERY weekend for that.
Above all, like many teacher martyrs, I PRIDED myself on how busy I was and how impossible it would be to accomplish all I wanted in the time I had. Back then, any illness threatened to derail all my carefully laid plans and schedules like a cat carelessly (but secretly maliciously) knocking over antique china. But something changed.
Being sick reminded me that I’m human, even if I don’t feel human at the time.
Last week, a student came with a heavy cold…of course, the one whose desk is the nearest to mine, but this time everything was different.
I didn’t avoid him and never flinched when he coughed or sneezed. Instead, I borrowed his pencil right out of his hand and spent a great deal of time immediately next to and across from him, explaining and working with him. And….I got sick! I’ll bet you thought I was leading up to a miraculous prevention method, right? (So yeah, now we know to wear a mask.)
By Wednesday evening, I was completely congested with ringing ears, a throat on fire, and an utter lack of energy. It was obviously not just a cold but a mutant cold. I stayed there too, surrounded by an ever-increasing mound of snotty tissues, piles of dirty dishes, and, thankfully, a lack of ability to smell myself. (Again, this was way before COVID-19.) Clearly, not even my most modest hopes for the weekend stood a chance, and I was beating myself up over my inability to give the typical 150% of my time, energy, and myself into lesson planning, teaching material creation, and everything else that we teachers believe and have been taught that we are responsible for. You’ve been there, right?
Stop being a teacher martyr. Just STOP.
Here’s the thing—zero resentment at how my long weekend has gone. None! How is that possible? BEFORE I got sick, I took back my life, and that has made all the difference. No one has ever required me to show up an hour and a half before classes start, so I stopped doing it.
Nobody has ever required me to spend 6-8 hours a day working on lesson plans and material or researching all the latest teaching strategies, so I stopped doing it. I no longer demand of myself that I know ALL the latest technology or beat myself up trying to implement it in my classes perfectly.
All those shiny new teaching strategies? I don’t need to know them all immediately, and my students won’t suffer if I don’t start using them tomorrow.
Regain the joy of just teaching.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been just…teaching, and here’s the thing—my students haven’t suffered at all! In fact, they are still enjoying classes, making progress, and doing really well. That sick student who gifted me with the cold germs? He was showing up to class every day because he felt like what he got from the class was WORTH dragging himself out of bed every morning and into school, so obviously, just being me is enough.
Teachers, we are enough!
We don’t need to buy into what advertising campaigns say we (and our classrooms) should look like or what social media glams up. None of us need to be the teacher martyrs that society likes to shove on a pedestal either. I don’t need to compete with Instagram teachers. Keep up with all the hashtags, the Twitter chats, the Facebook groups, the blog hops, the latest apps, the most recent faddish teaching strategies? Not me. I don’t need to do any of that. And neither do you!
My name is Rike, and I’m human.
I don’t resent that I’ve spent three days producing mucus and not much else because I don’t have to count on a long weekend to get everything done. I’ve got time! My students will not suffer if I don’t have everything perfectly color-coordinated with cute rhymes and heartfelt messages. They don’t need the glitz of an Instagram teacher, and I don’t need to be one.
I’m enough just as me. I’m not going to “do it for the students, not the money.” That’s doormat talk. That doesn’t serve me OR my students. I’m not going to self-righteously sacrifice myself on the altar of education ever again. Don’t call me a hero. Don’t put me on a pedestal that I’ll later be dragged off. I reject that mantle of teacherhood. I am enough.
But…I will go take a shower now.
Want to make another change? I’ll give you 3 Reasons to Spend as Little as Possible on Your Classroom.
Read more about teaching adult ESL here.
- Adult ESL: Honest Tips From the Trenches
- Two Priceless Adult ESL Teaching Tips to Always Remember
- 6 Important Things to Remember When Discussing Goals with Your Adult ESL Students
- Getting into the Nitty Gritty of Practical English for Adult ESL
- Linguistic Investigations: an Incredible Way to Build Student Self-Reliance