It’s not the work and it IS the work

Here’s a thing:  I have an over-developed work ethic. 

I feel responsible for pretty much every dang thing in the world.  This isn’t a skill or an asset.  I recognize I have not only allowed myself to be a martyr I have occasionally embraced it.  It’s a thing.  A thing I recognize and am addressing. And teaching?  It might be interesting to try to cast teaching with five archetypes, kinda like Breakfast Club did.  Martyrs would be one. 

Sacrificing for the work has long been a part of teaching.  No one goes into teaching for the money.  If anyone wants to actually be good at teaching, the summers off prove themselves a joke early in the career.  

I love to work.  I love the feeling of accomplishment when I put content pieces in order, solve a pacing puzzle, open a path for students, and meet the moment– after moment after moment.  I love learning.  I take wild and intense pride in my classroom and in seeing that magic of kids come to fruition because of the community and agency and benchmarks made visible. I love kids. Oooh, how I love the kid. 

The work, though, has changed.  Somewhere, rather than voluntarily (and yeah, I am going to work on it) martyring myself for a cause I believed in and gave me joy, I have become an exploited cog without agency. 

A colleague of mine I admire greatly sent me this article.  At the heart is this: 

High social complexity + low form predictability = stress reactive behaviors.

The pandemic + the most polarized society in my lifetime has completely upped the social complexity. 

The pandemic + the most polarized society in my lifetime has completely tumbled predictability. 

So stress reactive behavior?  Yeah.  I am there. 

But the trajectory was there BEFORE the pandemic.  The trajectory was clear BEFORE polarization became so entrenched. 

I know that in my oh-so-large-and-growing-school district, part of that is complexity.  There are more people between the classroom and the building office and then the district office.  The people who filter into my life now are learning coaches, data experts, SEL experts, deans, assistant principles galore, testing experts, tech coaches.  

The number of adults interacting with my world staggers me.  The constant turnover is a significant complication.  And being online (and then, for me, returning to a brand new building that broke social bonds in place), well, research says that impairs trust.   The time provided to interact and coordinate with these adults?   Nonexistent or it comes out of my classroom prep time or personal time, the two core elements I seek to protect. 

High social complexity + low form predictability= stress reactive behaviors. 

Then there is the fact that these people, often removed from the classroom if they ever were there, make decisions that impact my daily life.  High school teaching has fundamentally changed since the advent of the cell phone.  High school teaching has fundamentally changed in the cut-throat economic competition of college entry and test scores.  High school teaching has fundamentally changed with the significant increase of emotional needs, including anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia, and ADHD.  And then there was a pandemic. 

High social complexity + low form predictability= stress reactive behaviors. 

The world of teaching needs us to work together to survive.  It is too complicated for a teacher to do solo behind closed doors.  A professional learning team helps that. 

Kids deserve a guaranteed curriculum.  They should not have grossly different experiences because of a computerized scheduling placement put them in room A vs room B.  A professional learning team helps that. I believe in it– and yet. . . 

A PLC means more adults in my world.  It means more interactions, dialog, compromise, and dreams.  The time provided to interact and coordinate with these adults?   Nonexistent or it comes out of my classroom prep time or personal time, the two core elements I seek to protect. 

High social complexity + low form predictability= stress reactive behaviors. 

My friend’s comments echo my world: “Many of us have held leadership roles that added a lot of extra time and work to our plates. The difference was we made those choices, and we were passionate and committed to what we were doing. We worked hard for a “purpose”. We’d be exhausted, but energized, inspired, and enthusiastic at the same time. Often now, it feels like we’re working to complete a task – but it may lack purpose for us. So even if we may be doing less, it’s stressing us out more.”

Yup.  There is more social complexity to teaching than ever before. 

This post covered only the number of adult complications that have added to social complexity. 

The fact education’s turnover is accelerating will increasingly add to the low predictability. 

I am not only no longer being energized, 

I am depleted. 

I fight to breathe and center. 

I fight to breathe and center in a world that ignores my reality while I try to see the realities of my students.  It’s no wonder something broke last year.

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