mental health days for teachers

 I woke up at 5:00 am this morning. There is no earthly reason for this choice. In fact, this is one day that I could have slept in a little bit later. I am not going to work today. I will not be in my classroom working with my students on reading, math, writing and social-adaptive skills. Over a month ago, I called one of my favorite subs and booked her for a Thursday and Friday, leading into a weekend. This is so I could retreat to a cabin on a lake for the next few days with my best friend. We have planned two other trips like this that we had to cancel, because Covid. But this is an AirBnB with nobody but us. We are cooking for ourselves and probably won\’t interact with any other people. Maybe a bear. I don\’t know, I haven\’t been to nature for a long time. There is water, and that is the crucial element for me. After spending my first 40 years on the coast of this great country, I really miss it now. It wasn\’t quite the ocean, but we could drive for 20 minutes and get somewhere where I could smell salt water. Watch for seals. Let my kids play for hours on the beach, eating tuna sandwiches with sand in them. So a cabin by a lake is a good second choice. (Wait, cabin on a lake…isn\’t that a horror movie? I digress.)

So let me welcome you to my soapbox. Well, one of them. I have quite a few that I frequent. This one is called Mental Health Days For Teachers. That is my reality, so that is the lens that I look through when I muse on things. No one can deny that teachers have a tough row to hoe in general.  All teachers, all flavors. It literally doesn\’t matter. And this is in regular, garden variety school years. Add on a layer of Covid. All meetings conducted on Zoom. I literally had an IEP yesterday where the parent was on the phone in the car, full of kids. WHILE SHE WAS DRIVING. We are wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart, washing our hands and making our students do the same. All. Day. Long. We are cut off from so many of the usual strategies that we rely on to engage our students and keep them on task. Manipulatives  and puzzles for math, games to learn phonics and other reading skills, other games to offer as reward for struggling through another discouraging reading lesson. One more line and then we can play Memory. We can\’t play Memory because we can\’t disinfect it. Self-regulation is at an all time low. Emotions run high. Folks are exhausted, traumatized and short-tempered. Recess is a non-starter. We all constantly feel like we need a break. And guess what? We haven\’t had one for ten months. None of us.

So I planned this small cluster of Mental Health days for myself and here\’s why. I no longer buy into the myth that good teachers are selfless, an endless font of giving and sacrificing their own health (mental and physical) for the sake of their students. That is NOT a thing for me anymore. I devoted ten years to the homeschooling of my own children. I have been back in the classroom for the past fourteen years now. I am an educator. It\’s what I do. In fact, sometimes my husband has to remind me that he would quite appreciate it if I did not use my \”teacher voice\” when speaking to him. It is that much a part of me. But that is the critical difference now. It is a part, but not every part.

Last summer I did some PD (professional development for the uninitiated) about electively determining that you were going to adopt an approach to teaching that allowed you to become multi-vocational. That is, actual time for interests, relationships and pursuits other than teaching rather than cramming them in around the edges of your teaching life. This was a new thought. I had plenty of ideas that had been simmering on the back burner. But to have actual, scheduled time to run after some of them? That was a dramatically different story. But a happy one, if a surprise. So I began to re-orient myself to my work so that I could embrace this mindset. Mental Health days were born. I am still a beginner but I think I am getting the hang of it.

Will send news from the midst of the lake.