The Typhoon Of Education…#406

Another post from the website of Chuck Murphree, published YA writer, Mental Health speaker, Edcuator.

It has started again, the feeling of a faster heart rate, the inability to catch a proper breath, the tension that comes from a tight jaw that causes pain in my neck, the squeezing of my lower back which seems to mimic a vice grip on my spine, and then the almighty psoas muscle, tightening against my will, causing a lingering pain in the quad muscles in both legs. I cannot help but sit back and sigh and then giggle toward my pain. After all, it is my mind that is the source of it all. It’s my thoughts and emotions coming out in the form of stress. Stress, oh how I wish it was a four-letter word in stead of five because it should sit beside that most infamous of curse words, F&%K!

I felt it coming on slowly. For those of you who feel the world, you know who you are, it started to pile on after the first few days of school. It’s when anxiety caught me off guard, giving me surges of adrenaline that seemed to be injected in large veins by a tiny needle, slowly releasing it all, and leaving me on the edge of panic. Not quite a full-blown panic attack, just a little nudge reminding me that it’s there, waiting to interrupt my life if I don’t find a way to calm down my stress. And yes, depression decided to join the party because what fun would it be if my little dark friend didn’t come to play?

I suppose I could blame it on the start of another school year. Perhaps it is me starting a new position in the world of education. Maybe “world” isn’t the right word these days. It’s more like a typhoon that makes landfall in August and continues until June. Yes, the typhoon of education. Why? I sit and wonder why we haven’t figured it out yet? We educators have a repeated cycle of stepping into the fire, suffocating on the smoke, year after year. We start off with our professional development and encouraging words from worn-out administrators, which is part of the repeated cycle, and then the dam breaks. We are then flooded. We rush and feel rushed. We are given a plethora of insurmountable tasks to do, maybe I should say unsustainable tasks, and it just keeps coming. And all of this has nothing to do with students or even parents. Yet, they are there. The most important purpose of all, our kids are there, waiting for us to engage them. They are there to tell us about their lives, emotions, and mental health. They are there to share their experiences from their sometimes chaotic home lives, and yet, when we give them our all, we are piled on with more. It makes me wonder what our true priority is? Is it meetings? Is it data? Is it paperwork? Is it politics? It often does not seem like it is students because we are worn out with everything else that is required.

Let’s go back to that word “blame” for a moment. I cannot have blame for anyone but myself for the stress that is unfolding. It is me who feels the world deeply, so while I am being flooded by all the training, meetings, paperwork, parent phone calls, and on and on, I am worried about my kids. They sit before me, some struggling daily with their own depression and anxiety. Some are struggling with their self-worth, and it is them that I keep as my priority. They are waiting for my ears and my heart. They are waiting for my words and my experience. They wait patiently for me to teach them but what they really want is the connection. And so I am to blame for my stress. I am to blame for my anxiety and allowing myself to be flooded because I care. I care deeply for the young human that has come through my classroom door and needs me. It has been suggested that I should let much of my work go and do only what I can while there. I am not sure about this statement. It tortures me actually. I am uncertain if I can lower the expectations that I have set for myself. I am uncertain of it all. This, I am afraid, especially during the moments where my body is screaming at me, when my jaw is tightening to the point where I strain to talk, will be my demise. Maybe not my demise as a human just yet, but my demise as an educator.

I recently had a parent send an email to my district administrators. She basically said how thankful she was that I made a strong connection right away with her son. He is someone who struggles functioning because of his mental health, and she said in her email that I was the reason he wanted to continue coming to class. This gave me a little of my breath back. It helped me distinguish just a little of the fire. However, I realize if I focus my energy on him, helping and connecting with him, as well as my other students, and then attempt to do my best with all of the other tasks that I am required, I will fall head first back into the fire, perhaps burning myself so bad it will ravage my body. The signs are there. I feel this year may require a large extinguisher to put out the flames.

My hope is that someday the typhoon of education will level, or at least become a large wave. Yes, we educators are strong swimmers, so a large wave would be manageable. However, I am uncertain if the powers that be, the community and nation as a whole, and the families, quite understand what is happening. Education is the foundation of what builds this country. I believe we just saw the impact and reality of that during the pandemic. If we continue to have this mass exodus. If we continue to drown our teachers in unnecessary training, paperwork, and lack of support, we will crack our foundation until it crumbles. Actually, the crack is already happening. The levee to the dam is about to release. My regret, the thing that makes me sit in tears at times, is our children will suffer. When they do, teachers will be to blame for taking care of themselves and leaving the field. Why? Well, we often look for blame in situations that are totally in our control but we let it get out of control. If I could ask the nation, the politicians, the school boards, administrators to reflect, to be mindful, I believe they would see that teachers aren’t to blame at all.

As for me, I will find a way. I always do. I find a way to come to the brink of what I feel will be my extinction from being an educator and I manage to hang on. However, at what cost? I recently sat with my wife, told her about the pain in my body, the anxiety and depression, and how I feel that no matter how much I take care of myself, exercise, eat right, and be mindful, that stress may catch up to me. It may kill me. As we hugged and shared tears, she said, “Is it time to do something else?” The thought haunts me.

I love to teach. I love connecting with my students and showing them a new way of thinking. I strive to help them navigate their mental health and the struggles that they face as young people. I am good at it. I prioritize building relationships because I know that is what truly matters in my field. I am the educator who finds that one student sitting alone, looking desperate, and I reach out to them, offering them my compassion and empathy. I have had students tell me I saved them. I helped them to the point that made them want to live and heal and find a better way. I have tried to deny that impact for years because it is difficult for me to admit I have had any impact, but it’s all there. My students’ pictures are hanging onto the wall in my mind reminding me of my purpose, and they are my reason to keep going. That is why it haunts me to think about leaving education. I think, “What if there is a kid out there that needs me? Maybe next year or next month, but what if they are there? They may not know it but they wait for me to make that connection that will help them build the skills needed to survive and take notice of their worth.”

But, to what extent? Will all of the other debris in the typhoon tear me up and continue to bruise me? Will it lead to my soul drowning? Will the pain caused by stress in my body be worth it? The pain in my mind and the torture that anxiety brings? Will my depression lead to more thoughts of leaving this world and sparing all of you my words?

My plea to all of you is to notice that this is not unique to me. It is why we have a crisis in education. Our teachers suffer and have chosen to not perish among the flood. Stop it before our kids do too.

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Today is my Waldo day. My students love it when I go into a character they recognize.

#Mental Health #Education


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