Tag Archives: teacher self-care

Things I Learned in August

One of my favorite podcasters/writers/self-help gurus is Emily P. Freeman. She has such a soothing voice and some really great advice. Her podcast is “The Next Right Thing,” and she also has a book by that title. The podcast has everything to do with decision-making, reflecting, and taking the next right step. It helped me a great deal during the 2021-2022 school year when I couldn’t look past the next day without having a total breakdown.

One of her reflective practices is to write what you have learned “within a season.” She encourages you to define “season” however that feels right to you. For me, back to school, a.k.a. August, is a whole season in itself. Here are the things I learned in August:

  • What a panic attack feels like
  • That taking the summer off, really off, probably kept me in this career field
  • That changing schools is hard and uncomfortable, but also challenging in the best way
  • That it’s very difficult to keep up with your blog responsibilities when you are working 10+ hour days and collapsing once you get home (sorry!)
  • What PTSE is and how it makes so much sense
  • To use “good readers…” and “good writers…” when developing objectives/teaching points

For today’s post, I am going to pull out one of those learnings to expound on in hopes it helps you the way it has helped me.

PTSE

In August, I started reading Tarana Burke’s and Brene Brown’s new anthology You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame, and the Black Experience. In one of the pieces, “The Blues of Vulnerability: Love and Healing Black Youth” by Shawn A Ginwright, he writes about the term PTSD being “inadequate to capture the depth, scope, and frequency of trauma” in the environments of Black youth. Instead, he proposes the term “persistent traumatic stress environments,” or PTSE’s, to demonstrate the constant fear, trauma, or sadness that comes with food insecurity, lack of housing, and more. These are not things that live in the past and haunt our present; they are current stressors that affect these kids everyday.

After reading this piece, I had many epiphanies about my students’ experiences and some of the roadblocks they may have to learning. There is an urgency in front of us to both rid communities of these constant stressors by building better living conditions and also to meet students’ mental health needs now. We have to always stay in front of it because it is present, not past.

I also had a realization about my own experience. I have been grappling to find the words to describe how I feel to my husband, my parents and all the other non-educators around me. I am not feeling PTSD from last year. I am also not sure I am feeling burnt out because I took a true break over the summer and have felt that it really helped me recover. I think I am living in a persistent traumatic stress environment. Now, please hear me clearly when I say that I am a middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual female and I in no way think my experience is equal to the youth that Ginwright speaks of. However, he did give me some new language to clarify how I am feeling. I am so happy to not be teaching hybrid and to be able to be more interactive with my students this year. But I am also feeling extreme amounts of stress that I haven’t experienced before (see “learning what a panic attack feels like” above). I am feeling pressure to “get things back to how they were before” and to “close learning gaps.” I am also feeling pressure to keep my students safe because my state has done nothing to do so, and we have a massive amount of cases. My mind is always going, I am always feeling like I can’t possibly get it all done, and I am always aware that we are not doing enough for what these kids need. These feelings came as a major disappointment to me because I was expecting this year to be better for a lot of reasons. It was confusing and upsetting that I was still feeling the 100-pound weight of stress digging into my chest everyday.

With this new clarity around my feelings with PTSE’s, I have been able to offer myself some grace. I understand now that I won’t just be rid of the stress after I just get past this hurdle or that deadline. I will still have to think about how best to set up my room/do activities to keep kids as safe from COVID as possible. I will still have to find every avenue of creativity to help these students get back on track. With this knowledge, I made the decision to work some longer days than normal but to also create a work-home boundary to prioritize real rest in the evenings and on the weekends. There may be no end to this PTSE in sight, but with understanding of the problem and some strategies I can handle it better than I was when I was just trying to make it to a new day expecting it to be better. Because I have put on my own oxygen mask, as they say, and done the work to take care of myself, I am better equipped to help my kids through this extremely stressful time.

For example, I understand that many of my students are also living in these environments- because of mental health situations, race, economic status, living as a teenager in a pandemic, etc. I can use this knowledge to help them also find similar boundaries and grace for themselves, too. I really enjoyed the advice in the reflective piece “Two Weeks In…” and think these are great ways to get students through their own PTSE’s.

Rebecca Riggs is in her 5th year of teaching. She has moved to a different school in the Houston, TX area and is teaching ELA II. She is surviving these times by throwing caution to the wind and eating/drinking all the Fall things even though it’s still 90 degrees and not technically Fall yet. She is reading You Are Your Best Thing and The Tattooist of Auschwitz. She and her husband will celebrate 10 years together this month, which makes her giggle because they met when she was her students’ age.

May I have your intention please?

I am borrowing my word for 2018 from my friend Whitney who in her wisdom spoke right to my heart:  “My word for 2018 is “intentional,” and I see that manifesting as spending quality time with quality people engaging in quality pursuits…being conscious about what I choose to do. I’m tired of being spread too thin and being so stressed out and/or exhausted that I can’t enjoy the moment I’m in.”

Ever had that moment when someone says your words for you? Thanks, Whit!

My father instilled in me the habit of setting goals. He taught me how to write them down and then see them to fruition. I am pretty good at it (most of the time.) But lately, (like the past three years) I, too, have spread myself too thin, and it’s taken a long while for my inner voice to shout loud enough for me to hear it. Poor hoarse thing.

This idea of intention resonates like an echo from the canyon of my soul. This voice is serious and a little scary. See, I’ve operated intensely in the extremes for decades. How can I do this and this and this? How can I be more, do more?

But I have not always practiced intention. More is not always better. Duh.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with my friends and colleagues Amber and Mary. I had the privilege of mentoring them as pre-service teachers several years ago. They told me the best word to describe me then was intense. Of all the words in the world. . .

I get it. And these friends will agree: I have come a long way. But I’ve got miles to go.

So I am going to be a little more honest with myself. A lot more patient. A lot more sincere. I am going to set myself free. Free to explore and relax and play.

Intentionhonestly

To be able to do this more effectively, I am also going to take some advice I got from Adam and not just take a break from social media but detach from it — a lot. Maybe I will read a lot more of the books Adam recommends and make a bigger dent in my books-to-read-next pile.

I found this article 6 Simple Questions to Set 2017 Intentions, and I’ve played around with my own questions and answers in my notebook. I am a year late to the party, but I’ve got the pointy hat on now.

I also found a list of beautiful poems at the Center for Mindfulness, a place I should probably rent a room. I’ve printed them out and will paste these poems in my notebook and write around them. (I remember Penny Kittle saying one time that she does this:  pastes poems in her notebook that she can write beside while whiling away in faculty meetings.)

Poem I Said to the Wanting Creature Inside of Me

Will this intention transfer into my teaching? into my relationships with students? No question. Here’s how I rewrote those questions above to fit with my quest to be more intentional at school:

  • What are 1-3 experiences I want to have with students this spring?
  • Who are 3-6 students I want to deepen my relationships with this semester?
  • What are 1-3 things I want to try in my classroom that I’ve put off trying?
  • What are 3 way I will take care of myself more effectively during the school day?
  • Who on my campus can I get to know more meaningfully?
  • What one word do I want students to describe me?

We all know the benefit of boundaries. I don’t know why it is so hard for some of us to set boundaries for our own well being. As teachers, we take on a lot, don’t we?

My hope for myself — and for all of you — is that we can stop a spell, consider the moment, think about what matters in the long run, then, and only then, take a step toward whatever it is we want to accomplish.

There we will have a solid place for our feet. I like that.

What are your intentions for the new year? I’d love to know.

Amy Rasmussen is the mother of six grown children and two naughty Sheltie puppies. She’s married to her best friend of 32 years and teaches at an awesome senior high school in North Texas. She hopes this is the year she can stop everything else long enough to write that book. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk 

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