It’s the time of summer that feels like one big Sunday night. You know, the Sunday night scaries when your to-do list for the week starts to weigh on you, and you become filled with self-doubt about whether you can do it all. Oh, and on top of all of that, there is the overwhelming feeling that you are forgetting something really important.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, the night before August hits and every day leading up to the first day of school can be overwhelming because we have the entire school year ahead of us and every day matters so deeply. As Todd Whitaker says, “The greatest thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.”
If it didn’t matter, it wouldn’t feel so hard. All things that are worth doing take great effort. And yet, I have to believe there is a way to give tremendous effort without sacrificing our well-being.
The best way to take really good care of other people is to take really good care of ourselves, first. That looks different for different people. Pedicures aren’t going to fix things for us. Long walks alone aren’t doing to fix things for us. Those things are nice and can help, but if we don’t find a way to find peace, those are just additional activities on an already overbooked calendar.
For the first time…ever…since becoming an educator…I read three novels this summer. I know that isn’t impressive. As a teacher, I often used summers as time to catch up on professional reading. As an administrator who works in the summer, sometimes even my list of professional books is a struggle. I went into this summer with some time off in July, and I set one small goal. I wanted to read a novel. At the pool. Ha! How about that for a goal?
But you know what? I didn’t just achieve that goal. I exceeded it – I happily devoured two books on top of that first book simply because I had enjoyed the experience of the first book so much. It felt so good to prioritize doing something simply because I enjoyed it. How often do we do that? When was the last time you felt like you really had FUN? When was the last time you felt like you really had FUN in the classroom or in your school or organization? It turns out a lot of us aren’t having very much fun. We’ve been not having very much fun for long that we don’t realize we aren’t having fun and don’t realize that it matters. These questions are pondered and explored in The Power of Fun by Catherine Price which I’ve been enjoying between deliciously written fiction.
I used to have a teacher-friend whose husband called her (I’m going to make up a name here) Kathy and then Summer-Kathy. Summer-Kathy was always way more fun and alive because well, it’s often easier to be more fun and alive when you have a relaxed schedule!
But what would happen if we let up a little bit on the big expectations we have for ourselves this school year? It’s probably not realistic that someone who doesn’t drink 8 oz. of water a day is going to start drinking a gallon a day when the school year starts. Maybe start with 8 oz. – and if you drink more, bravo! If you drink 8 oz. for 30 days, great! How about 16 oz. next? It’s also probably not realistic that we are going to differentiate instruction for every single lesson – not to mention, it’s likely not necessary to differentiate instruction for every single lesson.
Perhaps if we let up on some of the unrealistic expectations we have for ourselves, we will find the emotional capacity needed to bring some much needed levity into the work environment. It would be lovely to laugh more this school year. To play more this school year. To enjoy our students more this school year. And when things get hard, which they always do, it would be nice to have the emotional capacity to be fully present for others in the struggle.
Quite simply: it would be lovely to be more present for our lives inside and outside of the work environment. Maybe caring a little less about some things will give us room to care more about things that truly matter. Maybe caring a little less about some things will give us room to care more about our wellbeing. The wellbeing of others.
I’ve mentioned in a previous post some of the self-talk that helps me stay where I need to be mentally and emotionally. It’s simply, “Girl, we do not have time for this.”
Perhaps if we grow our capacity to lovingly speak boundaries to ourselves, we will strengthen our collective capacity to maintain healthy boundaries with others this school year. We are worth protecting. Our time is important. Our energy is important. Our wellbeing is important.
We can work hard and enjoy the work. We can work hard and enjoy life outside of work.
Maybe it starts with caring a little less about things that don’t matter as much and knowing ourselves well enough to be our own champions. This is challenging when people in positions of authority seem to place value on things that we don’t feel matter very much. But it doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
You deserve peace. You deserve it now. You deserve it on the night before school starts. You deserve on every Sunday night. You deserve in good moments and hard moments.
Let’s prioritize our peace. Let’s prioritize our joy. Let’s prioritize the work that feels most important and think less about the rest. And let’s prioritize our boundaries.