When Exhaustion Comes

Research has shown a typical pattern of feelings of 1st-year teachers.

However, I think that it often reflects the emotions of all educators, but perhaps with less drastic dips. Regardless, around October, the newness and adrenaline rush that gets us through the beginning of the year and September starts to dwindle. We have had time to build relationships with our students and because of that, the demand that we put on ourselves for their success weighs on our hearts. We have had time to assess our students, and we know the reality of the job we face. I have had this conversation more than once this past week…October is hard!

I also had a personal experience with hitting the wall of exhaustion. A four day week filled with teacher observations, data meetings, a homecoming parade, PLC Meetings and a night with three hours sleep left me debilitated.  I felt myself having less and less to give to my students, my teachers, and my parents. My smile was diminishing. It wasn’t good, but I was too tired to do anything to stop it.

Finally, I was able to think of something I heard Dr. Bertice Berry say the week before.  “When you walk with purpose, you collide with destiny.”  As I reflected on the statement, I realized that when we get tired, we somehow lose our ability to focus on our purpose.  We get bogged down in a survival of the moment to moment.  I acknowledged that if I am honest, my exhaustion sets in when I let the unimportant things start taking priority. When I start demanding perfection of myself rather than focusing on growth, I use more energy that leaves me feeling drained.

I know that to counteract problems effectively, we have to develop an intentional plan. This is what I came up with as a strategy to keep my emotional dips as shallow as possible:

  • Always remember your purpose. We enter education to make a difference. Make sure students always drive your priorities. Even when you have to do a “task” that may not feel important, see if you can connect it back to your students, whether it is the time it takes for conferences, lesson planning, or meetings, think about how that intentional time in this activity could make a positive impact on students. If you can’t make this connection, eliminate the task or find a way that you minimize the time that you spend on the assignment.
  • Give yourself permission to go slow and grow. Sometimes we should go a little slower in the beginning to develop the habits our students need so they can go faster later. Time is better spent moving at a slower pace early on than going too fast and wasting that time because you didn’t get the success you want. As the right habits build, you will be able to speed up, and students will also be successful. Breakneck speed with minimal success is exhausting. We can’t run a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. Find the stride that allows you to keep going while also getting you to the finish line at the front of the pack.
  • Find time for you. Educators must give a lot of themselves: to students, to parents, to each other. You can’t fill the cups of others if yours is empty. For me, it’s movies, massages, time spent in silence, inspiring music, and doing things with my family. Know what rejuvenates you and DO IT!
  • Count your successes. Make a list of all the great things you have done already this year that may be part of the reason you are tired. Celebrate the relationship you built with a child, the student’s growth that occurred because of your work with him, the parent that you reassured or that colleague you helped. We have to take a moment to remind ourselves we do make a difference!

I think October will always be hard in comparison to other months, but when we can look back over time and see this feeling is normal and that we always get through, it gives us hope. Jack Canfield says that what we see in our minds and what we think about is what we attract to us. If we see our abilities to overcome struggles when the realities of school set in we will successfully manage our dips because feelings of power and hope keep us from feeling drained. It’s hard work that makes us tired, but it is worth it when we remember our purpose and know that grit and growth mindset will prevail in the end.

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