Am I Really Making A Difference?

At least once a week I ask this question: “Am I really making a difference?” I don’t ask it out loud. Sometimes it’s so subtle that I’m not sure if I really want to know. But every educator asks the question sometimes. I just find myself asking it more often lately.

No, I’m not looking for a pat on the back or even an affirmation that I’m really functioning well. Mostly I’m wondering if I’m “doing enough” or “making my work worth it”.

Do you ever feel that way?

So why do we question our ability when we know we’re doing the job?

Because the true educator is never satisfied with pretty good or finished. The true educator tries to find a better way or a more engaging topic. The lesson plan always evolves.

It feels like a restlessness. It might come across as if I’m unhappy with my job. I’m not. Not really. Mostly I’m feeling as if I could do more. Help more. Facilitate more. Listen more. Communicate more. Care more. Okay, answer fewer emails and phone calls!

Yet, I’m passionate about learning. My learning, my students’ learning and the teachers around me learning. But I can’t do it all. There. I said it. “I can’t do it all”. Not at work. Not at home. Not anywhere. So I start to feel like less than what I am. Silly, right?!?

Maybe you’re nodding in agreement right now. It’s okay. All educators feel it. Even you. Maybe especially you.

So do we look for a different job? Always. Do we change up what we do? You bet. Do we try to stop long enough to let the truth sink in? Probably not enough. The truth, friend, is that we are burned out. Our emotional bank is overdrawn. Our light is dimming under the bushel basket. And our energy is depleted.

Does that stop us? Briefly. Or maybe it paralyzes you like it can me.

So I cope. And I look for jobs. And I realize that I am what I do. I AM a teacher. I AM a coach. I AM a mentor. And all of those things meld together nicely in my life.

Do I need a change of scenery? Maybe. Do I need to reinvent myself yet again? Maybe. But the bottom line is that I love people. People of all kinds. People who need me just as much as I need them. To quote Barbra Streisand, “People who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.”

So, am I really making a difference? I think I am. Are you making a difference? Don’t be afraid, speak up. Tell someone. Tell me. We are stronger together.

Did someone say vacation?!?

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Is it Teacher Burnout?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
“superwoman” by hans van den berg is licensed under CC BY 2.0

While I like to think that I am superhuman and can go on little sleep, work multiple jobs and manage to tend adequately to my family, that just isn’t so. I TRY to make that so. But in reality, I find myself frazzled and stressed. Yes, I believe it might be Teacher Burnout.

It’s easy to write this during my summer break, even though my calendar reminds me to “Do a Blog Post” every Monday year round. (Thanks, George Couros @gcouros for the challenge!) Writing during the school year when my double full-time job, multiple piano students, and online teaching are in full swing and the reality is definitely different.

Dr. Jenny Rankin’s First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success. Taylor & Francis, 2016, provides strategies for dealing with burnout. In her book, Dr. Rankin provides some Teacher Burnout Statistics.

Teacher Burnout Statistics

The statistics listed are not current, but I can’t help but imagine that with the increased demands on teachers and administrators, that those numbers might actually be higher than Dr. Grant has communicated.

Attitude is a huge part of our burnout rate. It is a huge part of our overall health. A perfect example is my 89-year-old father. He has an incredible attitude. He rarely complains about anything, he is helpful and easy to get along with. He does things for others with a smile. But if you read his medical history and what he has “wrong” with him, you’d think he should be shouting at little children in the street and shaking his cane at every passerby! Not only does he treat everyone with respect, but he doesn’t even need a cane to go on his 3 or 4 mile walk every day!

So, how can we strive to keep ourselves sane in the ever burdened education world we live in? I believe starting with a simple, positive goal each day is helpful. The following are a few of my strategies:

  • Take a moment to reflect on why we do what we do, realizing that it’s not about the money or the fame but about lives of humans that we want to nurture and grow into productive citizens. (This includes the teachers you work with, too!)
  • Avoid the “toxic” people in your life. Find a way to remain friends, but avoid those gripe sessions that can be so prevalent especially towards the end of the year.
  • Practice your smile. Greeting people with a smile and a warm “Hello!” sets the tone for the following conversation and might even help someone change their day.

Finding time to indulge yourself, even if for a few moments at work, with something that brightens your day or lets you breathe is imperative. For me, going to bed earlier and using my lunch as a private reflection time help me. Oh, and not taking complaints and criticism personally. It’s easy to fall into that trap!

Breathe deeply. Do things purposefully. Encourage those around you to do the same things. You might be surprised at the results.

Think you might be suffering from burnout? Try taking this self-test: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_08.htm