career help. I yam so sleepy.
December 5, 2011 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Career filter: How to proceed if I am exhausted and unhappy?

I'm about 3 months into my first real teaching job as a special ed. teacher for 3-5 year olds in a public school. The kids have a variety of needs: some have Down Syndrome, some have autism, some have seizure disorders, and so on. I am technically a long-call sub, so I earn less and get no benefits (boo), though I'm doing the same amount of work a contracted teacher would do.

A bit of background: I studied art, child psychology, and French in college and went on to get my M.Ed in early childhood ed. and special ed. (a double license). So it seems that I have my career set out before me, but I'm unsure. I recently spent 7 months as an English assistant in a small French town and enjoyed myself beyond belief. I still love photography and painting and making stuff. I could see myself going back to school for psychology. I want to be creative and feel fulfilled!

My recent worry revolves around my current job. It's a really, really hard job. It can certainly be fun, and I have great co-workers. But it's freakin' hard. I feel like my life revolves around these kids. And maybe that's just what being a teacher involves. Work on the evenings and weekends, exhaustion, getting spit on and kicked, ridiculous amounts of paperwork, and so on. I'm just not sure it's for me (as all first year teachers say, I bet). The deal is, I will likely get a contract in a couple of months, which will bump up my pay quite a bit and make me feel much more willing to teach until the end of the school year. Even if this happens, I know the frustrations and tiredness won't go away.

Assuming that I continue teaching for another 7 months, I would love some suggestions for getting through it. What I'm doing now: I go to the gym 2-3 times a week and do a little yoga at home when there's time. I eat decently and take vitamins (fish oil, B, multi, calcium/D). I go to counseling every other week to work on some other issues, but have also started talking about my future, career-wise. I just began using a "happy light" because the setting sun bums me out. I usually get about 7.5 or 8 hours of sleep per night (and a lot more on the weekends because I'm so knocked out by Friday).

Any ideas for surviving this hard time? I know I should be thankful to have a job, and I really, really am! But I just can't handle feeling dead all the time.
posted by sucre to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Teaching is like running a marathon - you're exhausted at the end and you often have nothing to show for it but sweat and the happiness that you're done.

It sounds like the situation you're in is pretty untenable. It may be less about not wanting to be a teacher and not being in a good job/school situation.

I think the best thing you can do is this: take an occasional mental health day, play relaxing music in the classroom, keep a journal where you write in it every day after school ends so you can remember all the positive things that happen and work through the negative things that happen, smile more than you feel like smiling, and give the kids and yourself a fresh start every day.

When you walk into the classroom, you need to mentally set yourself so that you can be fully present in the job. Higher pay/benefits or not, you should find the things that you can do in class that make you feel fulfilled - can they do any art projects? Can you teach them some words in English and French? Can you bring your passions into the classroom? I always tell new teachers to follow their passion, not their potential. It's harder with younger kids, but if you can find the content that you're excited to teach, you'll be happier with your job.

And this bears repeating: All teaching jobs are different. You may find that this age/school/area is not for you. Hang in there. Find a way to visit schools and age levels that may be a better fit.

It sounds like you're taking care of yourself - keep listening to your body and sleep more than you think you need. It's the best thing for first year teachers: loads of sleep. :-)
posted by guster4lovers at 7:54 PM on December 5, 2011

I'm nine years in and still feel dead so definitely just focus on sleeping as much as possible, getting through the next 7 months and really really focus on your forwarding plans. Make an escape plan and put it into action.
posted by bquarters at 7:55 PM on December 5, 2011

Multiple days ability disabled kids are so hard but you knew the specifics when you signed. They make it super clear. I think first yr requires insane work. Try getting lesson plans online or your coworkers?
As for exhaustion try iron, ESP if you are cold( another hint) it must be low. If you are run ragged iron is drained.
Gl, they need you
posted by femmme at 9:08 PM on December 5, 2011

One of my best friends has been an elementary special ed teacher for about ten years. One of her tricks is that she stays at school to do all the paperwork and planning every day, sometimes until 7 or 8. That way her weekends are completely free and she does fun stuff, goes out dancing, goes to the beach- she lives in Florida-, works in her yard, spends time with family and friends. She says the first year was the hardest but now she's glad she stuck it out. She travels every summer and starts every new year re-invigorated.

Another teacher friend takes a long shower when she gets home and a short nap; this puts a formal dividing line on her time and she has the evening to do whatever.

You sound like you're doing things right, taking good care of yourself. Are you spending enough time with people who care about you? If you can afford it, consider getting a massage on a regular basis.

Try to make it through to the end of the school year before you make any career-changing decisions. Good luck, be well, be happy.
posted by mareli at 4:57 AM on December 6, 2011

Mrs. straw is an instructional assistant in special ed. With that in mind, two things:

First, talk to your IAs. You say you've got great co-workers, and I believe it. Remember that they've figured out how to deal with this. Yeah, there are some kids marking time there, but there are a number who are there because the work is exactly what they want to do with their lives, and they don't want to get bogged down in all of the teacher paperwork that you're having to deal with.

You probably have decades of experience in curriculum planning and understanding that's just itching to be applied and to help you.

Second, talk to your union. I have been a completely free market libertarian anti-union person (in my father's words, "right wing asshole") in the past, but if ever there were an application for unions it's for teachers and instructional assistants. Find out what other teachers are doing with their teaching loads. Look to their experience for what you really do and don't have to do.

Finally, know that the amazing moments don't happen when they do, but when they do they're life-changingly amazing. That kid, who hasn't talked in years (since the baby talk stage), who finally one day turns and starts expressing complete sentences and thoughts? Yeah, it happens. Being in a restaurant 5 years later, running in to one of your kids and having a parent gush effusively over how much impact you had? Yep, seen that too.

And, yes, your life does revolve around your kids. That's what the job is. Find the reward in that and you will find some amazing rewards. Sure, some of it is drudgery, and some of it is palliative nursing, but some of it is making tangible and permanent differences. It will take you years to see those, but they happen.
posted by straw at 7:12 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for the advice/support! I am feeling a bit better about this job, because of this recent news: I was offered a contract AND they are going to backdate it so I'll get reimbursed for the last four months of work! Boo-yah. I feel better now about getting through this year, for sure.

Thanks. :)
posted by sucre at 4:40 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

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