Two unrelated things happened this week that, when juxtaposed, say something interesting about me.
The first was a conversation I had on Tuesday with a former student who is now in high school. I’ll call her “Lambda-2 Fornacis.” Lambda was in my class three years ago, the same class as Protractor Girl, The Boy I Have No Memory Of, and The Kid Who Sat Behind Me At A Basketball Game Once. She was the kind of student that most teachers love to have in their class. She did her homework, it was neatly written, and she always was one of the top students in my class. I think she had straight As all through middle school. I normally tell students that they can add me on social media after they finish middle school and go on to high school, but somehow (probably because these kids have older friends who talk) she found my Instagram (which doesn’t have my real name anywhere on it) and started following me the year after she had my class, when she was still in middle school. I didn’t do anything about it, though, because I figured she wasn’t the type to cause trouble, although I didn’t follow her back until the day after she finished middle school.
Anyway, Lambda asked me something about a recent post on Instagram, I replied, and then I asked her how she was doing. She mentioned that she had dropped precalculus. This year has been the first time she had ever struggled in math, she didn’t like the teacher she had this year, and she had been rethinking her career plans. I have to admit, that was a little disappointing to hear at first, because she was such a great student for me, and I’m always disappointed to hear when people don’t love math as much as me. However, I completely understand where she is coming from, and I told her so. I told her about hitting the same proverbial wall with physics my freshman year at UC Davis, how I struggled so much with that class at first, and while I still did well, it just didn’t feel as natural for me as math did. It was during that first physics class when when I decided for sure to major in mathematics and not physics, and I didn’t take any more physics after I was done with the minimum that would be required for the math major. I told her that there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind about your future plans, especially since she’s only 15. I told her that as late as age 19, I was telling people that there was no way I would ever be a teacher. And I told her that I took all the most challenging classes in high school, to the point that I had some very long days senior year, but I wasn’t doing it because I had a career plan. For me, it was because I felt like school was the one thing I was good at, and I would be a failure if I didn’t. This is not a mentally healthy outlook. I know that Lambda is going to be successful no matter what direction she takes her education.
That was Tuesday. On Wednesday night, I got very little sleep. I discovered another important thing here at the house that needed to be fixed. I started to panic under the pressure of everything that needed to be done. I was behind on grading papers. I had errands and chores that were piling up, and the kitchen sink was full of dirty dishes. I had now four important home repairs that needed to be dealt with as soon as possible, one of which was already making life more inconvenient in very tangible ways, and another of which had the potential to do so if left unchecked. I couldn’t sleep, and I wasn’t sure if it was related to stress, recent changes in medication, other health problems I didn’t know about, lack of exercise, or what. It’s very hard for me to get these home repairs and chores done sometimes, because I’m rarely home during business hours and my schedule isn’t very flexible. I don’t get a lot of exercise this time of year, because I’m only home when it’s cold and dark. And I couldn’t call in sick and take a day to recover from the lack of sleep and deal with these problems, because the classroom is such a mess that a substitute wouldn’t be able to find what they needed, and the kids would get behind anyway because my curriculum doesn’t work well for people who haven’t been trained and aren’t well-prepared.
I went to work on one hour of sleep (and I had gotten three hours the previous night). I made an important decision while I was tossing and turning: long story, but basically I sent an email to the administrators saying that I needed to back out of one of my weekly commitments. This would give me one more day of the week that I could get home a little earlier when needed, if I needed to deal with something before it got dark and places closed. Thankfully, they were very understanding. But, I told the principal, I still feel like I do so much less than so many other teachers. Some of them are working on graduate degrees. Many of them attend more professional development workshops than I do. Some of them are department chairs, or serve on committees. And many of them have young children of their own. I feel like there is something wrong with me, that I have such a hard time handling my own job, let alone all that extra stuff.
And then it hit me.
Why do I have such a hard time taking my own advice?
Just a day and a half earlier, I was messaging Lambda telling her that it was okay not to burden herself with hard classes that she didn’t need. So why can’t I tell myself that it is okay not to burden myself with stressful commitments that I don’t need?
Everyone’s brain works differently. I get more easily stressed and overwhelmed, and I’m fighting demons from the past that many of my coworkers don’t have. If I really believe what I told Lambda, then it’s hypocritical to insist upon myself that I take on extra commitments that I don’t get anything out of.
It’s now Saturday, and I feel so much better. Getting out of that extra commitment allowed me to leave earlier than usual on Thursday, which gave me time to make some phone calls to start the process of dealing with the two most pressing home repairs. I didn’t get completely caught up on grading, but it’s now a three-day weekend, so I’ll have time to catch up.
I’m going to be fine. :)&.