Dear overwhelmed teacher,
You started this year with so much energy and enthusiasm. You were excited, if not a bit anxious, about seeing your students and getting started. You pinned on Pinterest and searched Teachers Pay Teachers all summer long to prepare. You planned lessons, made manipulatives, and set up your space to be welcoming to your students. But now the year is in full swing, and the energy is fading. You’re exhausted and overwhelmed with the responsibilities of a music teacher. Grading, conferences, meetings, performances, and so much more have you worked to the bone. Sleep and time to eat are distant memories, and you don’t know how to get back on track.
We have all been there. Here are some ideas to help you through.
I know, I know. There’s a pile of papers that have been in the “to file” drawer since probably last quarter, centers materials to laminate, and your desk looks like it threw up. But you don’t need to be perfect; you just need to do your job. So make the desk look somewhat decent (junk drawers don’t need to be just for home) in the meantime, and sit down to prioritize. Make a list. What really needs to get done today? What can wait? What can you delegate to a helpful student or a partner? My husband Steve has cut out lamination almost as much as I have. It’s okay to ask for help. And kids LOVE to help during recess or if they finish a task before everyone else in their class. Don’t think you have to do it all by yourself, or that everything needs to get done immediately.
TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF.
This is a lesson I am working on a lot this year. I feel like if I take time for other things, I’ll just have to do the rest of my work later. But I’m finding that it’s so worth it. I started to going to a gym this past year, and the time I spend at the gym is time to let out my anxiety and frustrations. I de-stress, and I feel much better when I leave. Working out doesn’t do it for you? Join a local ensemble. This year, I joined a choir, and it feels wonderful to make music with my peers, as well as socialize. Maybe you could join a book club? Do puzzles? Whatever it is, find something that relaxes you, and make sure that you don’t let it fall by the wayside when work gets stressful. A hard lesson I had to learn was that my students could tell when I was stressed. I wasn’t as effective as a teacher, and class wasn’t as joyful for the students or myself. So no matter what is going on at school, make sure you do some self care.
FIND SOMEONE TO TALK TO.
As a verbal processor, talking to someone about my day is very important. My husband is a very good listener. But sometimes, he just doesn’t understand what we teachers go through. So for those times, I go to my best friend. She’s also a music teacher, and she just understands. I don’t need to explain to her why I’m frustrated that the copier was down during my prep. She gets it. Talking to a friend or partner is good, but being able to vent to a fellow teacher is the most helpful. They’ve been there, and they might even have some tips for whatever you’re struggling with.
Many districts also have Employee Assistance Programs, where you can receive a certain amount of confidential therapy sessions for free. I highly suggest finding out what is available to you. Teaching is a stressful job, and there is absolutely no shame in talking to someone about it. Whether you would benefit from talking to someone every week or so, or just need to get through a particularly tough situation, therapy is an awesome option.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF.
You can only do so much. In teaching, I find that we have trouble saying no, or setting up boundaries. You don’t need to feel bad about saying no to joining a third committee, or not volunteering for that fifth after school event. Until they start handing out cloning machines, there is only so much you can do. Yes, it is good to be helpful and involved in your school. But it is okay if there are times when you can’t help out. And the layer of dust covering the shelves in your classroom? It can wait. There’s only so much you can do in a day, and that’s fine.
So please remember that you are enough, that the work you do is important, and that you are your worst critic. You will get through this stressful time. After all, you’re a teacher, and you can do anything. …Just not everything.