The 2020-2021 school year was one of the toughest in my 13-year teaching career. It was, in fact, my last one as a full-time teacher (for now, anyway). Burnout was about as high as I’ve had it–more difficult than the year I taught 173 middle-schoolers while pregnant, more challenging than my first year teaching as a new mom.
With all of the new Covid procedures, policies, and related technology coupled with decreased embedded planning time to do it all, there were days when I could barely get myself dressed.
One morning, I was 20 minutes into my first lesson when a sweet student raised her hand. I naturally expected her to inquire about the content, but she stunned me when she asked, “Mrs. G., why are you wearing two different shoes?”
I looked down to see that I was, in fact, wearing an unmatched pair of shoes.
I was able to laugh at myself and with the students about it, and it became a sort of game for me throughout the day to see if anyone else noticed. I was a little embarrassed, sure, but as the day grew on, my sheepishness shifted to unsettledness and then to actual concern.
This had been the latest in a stream of uncharacteristically scatterbrained moments spanning a short few weeks, including misplacing a shirt that had been in my hands less than two minutes earlier, putting lunchmeat away in the pantry, and losing a remote for three days only to find it in my purse. The really scary thing was that I had zero recollection of these occurrences. They were almost like little blackout moments.
I could tell I was approaching the edge of panic that day as I kept going through the list of recent absent-minded actions. I was just about to start Googling “brain tumor symptoms” when I stopped myself and turned to my work friends. It was through their wise words that I calmed down and realized what was really going on: my mental capacity was tapped out. My brain was so full of new things to remember that it had simply hit its limits. Stress really does do some crazy things to our bodies and minds.
The relief that spread over me was equaled only by my deep appreciation and love for my colleagues. And sure enough, as I settled into the year a little more, my organizational skills returned to their normal levels.
Truth: your school family is vital to your survival in the classroom. You’re going to have some blissfully dreamy school years, and you are going to have some that make you want to walk out on the job on a daily basis. In both of those types–and through all of the in-betweens–your work pals will keep you going. Whether you need a laugh, a cry, some advice, a bit of commiseration, or simply an open ear, you’ll find that your teacher family is your lifeline. They’ll instinctively learn when you need a piece of dark chocolate, some essential oils, or a funny-because-it’s-true teacher meme.
I’ve had life-changing conversations in the hallways between classes. I’ve been uplifted on my darkest days. I’ve been given the boost I needed to face difficult and dreaded conversations. I’ve had friends cry with me and make me laugh through the tears, helping me to see the levity in the bleakest of moments.
I’ve been given tough love when I didn’t realize I needed it. We’ve kept each other afloat when we felt we were sinking. We’ve celebrated with each other and made big deals out of small wins in the classroom. We’ve shined bright spotlights on each other for the good things that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
As I grappled with the decision to leave the classroom, I knew I would miss the students. Their ability to make me laugh, keep me on my toes, and push my creativity up and out of my comfort zone went unmatched. They were nuts, they were exhausting… yet I loved them.
But just as heavy was knowing that I would be walking away from a group of friends who had linked arms with me and walked side by side through the most uncertain and uncomfortable period of my career. How could I say goodbye to them?
And then I realized something: I still kept up with my work friends at the other two schools where I had taught. I could reach out to them anytime, and they were always there.
Friendships forged within the school walls aren’t fleeting; they’re lifelong. And I’m now fortunate enough to have three distinctly different group chats that are a place of solace, support, and wisdom for just about anything. It’s not just about teaching anymore. It’s about life.
So don’t be an island. Your teacher BFFs are out there. Go grab ‘em, and don’t let go!
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