Teaching is a stressful job. To relieve that stress, we often vent about our work. We usually vent by complaining (sometimes too much) about stuff we can’t control. If we didn’t find a way to vent the stress, it will be the students who suffer the consequences. There’s nothing worse than an apathetic teacher suffering from burnout. Imagine dealing with children of any age without any patience. It’s not a pretty picture.
Empathy for others is an important part of a teacher’s mindset because we need lots of it to help our students. Teachers would do anything for their students to help them succeed. Most teachers I know have gone the extra mile to ensure the best for our students. Whether it’s volunteering for clubs and teams, writing “creative” reference letters, to buying them lunch because they’re hungry, or standing in frigid weather with a student because their parents are late. We empathize with the student’s plight, because we were young once too.
So you’d think that teachers who work with young people everyday are very empathetic towards others. And they are.
Until they talk to another teacher.
Complaining to another teacher about teaching is one of the worst experiences you’ll ever have. For some reason we lose the ability to empathize and immediately seize the opportunity to vent. The strategy we use is: “Me too, AND I’ve had it worse”.
- Teacher A: “My period 1 class is so tough, they’re always off task, goofing off, and there’s 33 of them! I could barely fit them in my tiny classroom!”
- Teacher B: “Oh ya, I’ve had classes like that! I once had 40 kids in a class and they had 60 IEPs! I had to check them for weapons before class and we were in a portable! We only had one table and it only had 3 legs!”
This is a common one:
- Teacher A: “I also have so much marking”
- Teacher B: “I have a lot too! I’ve got 90 tests and 80 essays and 10 labs to mark!”
- Teacher A: “Thanks. I feel so much better.”
It reminds me of standing in a long line up and someone starts to line up behind you. Does it improve your position in the line? How does knowing someone who has it worse make you feel better? Imagine a psychiatrist doing that?
- “You think your wife is crazy? I’ve had 3 divorces!”
- “Ya ya ya, that’s nothing, let me tell you what MY parents used to do to me!”
At our school, there is one person we can vent to without having to suffer through the “Me too, I’ve had worse”. Karen always listened, empathized, and offered helpful advise. She was our “Staff Psychiatrist”.
Even when there was no feasible solution to the issue at hand, she was able to relieve your stress by offering a kind word, a gentle smile, a warm hug, or a funny story to make you feel better. She has the ability to put things into perspective when you think the sky is falling, or (gulp) when your “issue” really isn’t a big deal.
Sadly, I must describe Karen’s voluntary psychiatry work in the past tense. For her, stress relief is simple: Early Retirement. At her retirement party, many teachers spoke about how Karen made them feel, starting from the first time they stepped foot into our school. I don’t remember the first time I met Karen, but I knew that whenever I was stressed out, I always found myself in her office, just talking about stuff. She’d ask me questions to take my mind off things, and we’d have discussions about a myriad of things unrelated to work. Ever since her departure a few months ago, I have felt my stress level increase and it’s all her fault!! Our school won’t be the same without her. If you read about me in the news getting into trouble at work, it’ll be due to a stress induced meltdown (students beware!). All the recent changes at our school hasn’t helped either, but that’s another post for another day.
If you haven’t crossed paths with someone who helps you relieve your day to day stress at work, how do you keep from going crazy? How many of you have a “staff psychiatrist” at work?
If you don’t have one, me too, and I have it worse: I know what it’s like to lose a great one.