About this time last year, I wrote a post about what it was like for me to be new to full-time teaching at elementary school level. One year later, I’m going to reflect on what’s changed and how, by addressing the same issues I talked about back then.
Picture me, leaving work at a reasonable hour (that still doesn’t compare to when teachers leave school in my home country, but compared to last year here, it’s a time difference of 3 to 4 hours), a tad tired but all in all in a good mood, thinking “This was a decent day.“ No pain in my head, no tears in my eyes, no frustration in my heart. How’s that possible?
Hydration. If you work in a slow-paced environment, this might sound odd to you, but it took me a long time to get used to drinking enough water throughout the day, because I was constantly busy and just forgot. I don’t anymore and in fact my drinking habits in general have changed: I barely ever drink a lot of water at the same time, but just take one sip at a time, several times every hour. (This habit has already amused family members back home.)
Blood sugar levels. Similar to the hydration issue, last year I didn’t eat enough during the day until I went into starvation mode every afternoon, aka “I’m going to faint any freaking minute now“. I found a rather simple solution to this by turning the rule parents of newborns have that goes “Whenever the baby is sleeping, I should be sleeping“ into “Whenever the kids are eating, I should be eating.“ Using the break times as actual breaks and not time slots to get more work done, miraculously, my blood sugar levels and overall well-being is just fine.
Dealing with sensory overload. Last year, I described a teaching day as being in a storm that starts the second the kids enter the room and doesn’t let go of you until they leave. I’d say the storm is the same, but I have changed. I’m not as affected by it as I used to be, for several reasons. For one thing, I’ve learnt to focus and block out everything that’s not important at that very second. (My friends and family feel the consequences of this when they hear me say: “Oh sorry, I stopped listening to this conversation about five minutes ago!“) For another, I’ve learnt to set boundaries. I don’t have a problem anymore telling a kid (or colleague) that “No, this is not the right moment for me to listen to your story, because (insert valid reason)“. Dealing with absolutely everything at once isn’t human. I’m not a robot and I don’t have to act like one.
In addition to that I have gotten so much better at one life-altering thing: Prioritizing. There is a saying that I was constantly taught as a child: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.“ As a teacher, that principle is going to kill you. Quite literally. To prevent that from happening and to keep actually liking my job, I’ve changed it into: “Always put off what doesn’t need to be done for tomorrow, because it means it’s not all that important:“ The to-do lists will continue to grow, no matter how much you get done today. Do what’s absolutely necessary and postpone the rest. This might sound like I’m a lazy person, but if you know me at all (or you are a teacher), you know that’s not the case. I’m just a person who doesn’t want to end up in the ER again anytime soon. (Preferably never.)
The reassuring thought of “If this was it for the rest of my life, would that be so bad?“ I feel like I got this now. I know myself and where my limits are, and the brutal consequences of crossing them. I’ve gotten to know my job, in which I have so much left to learn, but I’m confident that I will.
The last paragraph of my last post doesn’t need many additions. I still believe that teaching is one of the toughest jobs in the world and that you must be a tad insane to want to do it – and above all – stay with it. I am staying with it for now. My kids are wonderful. I get to be a part of them growing up and it’s the most rewarding feeling.
Teaching definitely isn’t something you master and love from one day to the next. It takes time and faith and countless “Why the f am I doing this to myself?!s“ to finally see the light.
I see it now.