Apr
04

Finding Your Flock

Finding Your Flock with birds on power lines. Finding your flock with birds on power lines.

A few weeks ago, my colleague, Jessica Conrad, authored a 
blog focused on the burnout that we, too often, feel as educators. So much of what she said rang true for me personally, and it really got me thinking about the reasons behind the burnout I felt at different stages in my teaching career. 


Out of college, I hit the ground running looking for my first teaching job. Mailing or handing out resume after resume, filling out online application after online application was quite a time-consuming and daunting task, but I held onto my optimism. Trying to land my first job in a college town during a time in which the teacher market was saturated equaled taking a job as a Title I aide in an elementary school. 

After the fall semester as an aide, I got my chance to teach my first class as a long-term substitute in a Kindergarten classroom. Yet, as the spring semester concluded so did my first job; there was no going back to my aide position because it had been filled. 

Spring forward a handful of years, through new positions and new schools almost every year, to my first full-time classroom teaching position in third grade. Four school years post-graduation, I had finally achieved my goal. With a variety of teaching experiences under my belt, I was ready to teach my students all they needed to know as third graders. 

It didn’t take long for the honeymoon phase to end and reality to set in. Teaching is hard. I knew it wasn’t easy, but I didn’t truly know how much it would take out of me physically, emotionally, and mentally from year to year. Neither did I understand how disconnected I could feel in a building full of other passionate educators and energetic students. 

Looking back, I can now see that what I needed to avoid the burnout and the tunnel vision was a flock. Sure I had friends in my building and colleagues that cared, but we all had our own set of responsibilities, goals, and classroom and personal challenges. It really didn’t dawn upon me until leaving the classroom that not only could my students and I have immensely benefited from intentional collaboration with the speech and language pathologist, special educators, occupational therapist, etc in my building, but that there are ways to connect with educators just like me or to those who support educators just like me beyond the walls of the school.

Did you know that there are over 15 projects supporting educators, schools, and parents that are part of the Indiana Resource Network? I didn’t until I left the classroom. Many of them provide their services at no cost to you.

Did you know that you can connect with all of us at PATINS in a variety of ways without much more than signing into your computer? I didn’t even know what a PATINS was, let alone that our mission is to support all educators, including those in general education, when it comes to making sure that every student has access to your curriculum. So, please spread the word and let us be part of your flock. No one; I repeat no one should go it alone. Plus, we can come to you in more ways than you may be imagining!
  • Join our crew of 3,975 PATINS Pages eNewsletter subscribers to hear real-life stories from the classroom, learn about the newest assistive tech in our Assistive Technology Lending Library (it's open to all public educators), find the latest in education news, sign up or request training, and so much more.
  • Subscribe to our weekly blog, PATINS Ponders, which has a total: 5,900+ total views to get PATINS/ICAM reflections and info on current education topics sent right to your inbox. You never know when the right blog will show up on the day you need it the most.
  • Like us on Facebook and join a flock of 1200+ followers! We love supporting our followers by highlighting innovative educators and sharing relevant news and information.
  • Grab a snack & your computer to hang out with us on Twitter on Tuesdays at 8:30pm EST. You’ll find us chatting about all kinds of topics at #PatinsIcam. This year alone you could have picked up 26 hours of professional growth points (PGPs) for participating or even lurking in a chat!
  • Check out PATINS on YouTubeA total of 17 new videos have been released so far this school year! The quick clips on tech, tools, & resources from vendors and PATINS Specialists, student success stories, & starfish award winners will leave you excited to try something new with your students.
  • Register and attend one of our no-cost webinars or request a repeat of a webinar you missed! A fellow PATINS flock member, Drew Slentz, commented that a great benefit to attending is the ability to download and explore apps that are shared during the presentation. We’ve hosted 77 webinars on ways to increase access to the curriculum since August with more to come. PGPs are available to all attendees.
  • Come interact with us virtually in Second Life during our office hours. We are there monthly and have hosted 54 meetings in the last eight months. Plus, our first ever PATINS Project Second Life Conference on accessibility is slated for May 14! Be on the lookout for more info coming soon!
It’s weird how lonely it can get in a classroom of 20 or 30+ students, so find your flock in your building, district, or beyond. And don’t be afraid to add PATINS or any other resource networks to your flock, knowing that it is no one’s job to judge you or the work you do with your students. We’re here to offer you a fresh set of eyes and perspectives while wrapping you in support as you chart the path to equitable access for each and every one of your students. Please remember, we’re truly just a phone call or email away

PATINS Project.org logo Virtual Educator Support July 2018 to February 2019

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Feb
28

Feeling the Burnout

Feeling the Burnout Burnt toast with the words
How is it that Fall Semester has 90 school days but Spring Semester has somewhere around 1,200? It feels like it doesn't it? While some of us are anticipating a much-deserved break, you or your colleagues might be struggling with that-which-we-do-not-really-talk-about: burnout.

I cried every day of the first two weeks in my first post-graduation job. No hyperbole: I went through my entire tissue box in my car and I knew exactly what spot to park in so the cafeteria staff couldn’t see my tears. I'm grateful to report that it got better. My first experience with burnout wasn't my last, but each time has taught me to be more patient and gentle with myself and others.


Still, it sucked.

My first job out of graduate school, I was excited but pragmatic. I wasn’t planning on changing the world, I just wanted to be a good speech-language pathologist. I wanted to help my students meet their goals, I wanted to turn in all my paperwork on time, to feel good about the work I did with kids, and have a real life outside of work.

When I woke up I felt I had enough energy and resources to pick two of those things and let the other two slide. I was miserable. I privately wondered if I was burnt out already, only a few months in.

I wasn’t burnt all the way, but the edges were pretty rough, a little toasty if you will, and it was obvious in the day-to-day. I was physically sick more than I’d ever been. I was short with people that didn’t deserve it. Every little ask or additional work felt like I was being personally singled out. Didn’t anyone care?!

The truth is, in education, we care and we are surrounded by people who care. We care so much, all day long, without ceasing, and the unpaid emotional work comes at a cost. In many cases, especially for those of us who work with students who have experienced trauma, it can come on acutely with compassion fatigue or slowly with burnout.

The Life Stress Test is one tool to help gauge how susceptible you are to stress-related illness. Notice that happy things, like marriages and vacations, contribute to stress just like deaths and job changes. Just before I started my (tear soaked) first two weeks:

Got married (50 points)
Had a change in financial status (38 points)
A student loan over $30,000 (31 points)
Change to a different line of work (36 points)
Finished School (26 points)

The month before I started school racked up enough "stress points" to put me firmly into a category of moderate concern, let alone everything else weighing on me up to that point. With all the “happiest time of your life” cards I’d gotten, it seemed wrong to be feeling stressed and upset. Looking back, I wish someone had said that I could be really happy to be married and employed and really unhealthily stressed at the same time, just to relieve some of the guilt.

It's interesting to note that most of these "stress tests" are very adult-oriented. What would it look like for many of our students? I imagine:

Walked into school late (15 points)
Unexpected substitute teacher (22 points)
High-stakes test (40 points)
Surprise convocation (13 points)
Something bad happened at home but the adults won't explain it to me (20-60 points)

Life has since changed for the better because I made changes. I surrounded myself with wonderful, positive people who listened and taught me how to manage my work. I said “no” to some things so I can say “yes” to self-care. I created new schedules. I learned new paperwork management techniques. I applied UDL principles in my work for my students and for myself. I had fun! PATINS had a wonderful twitter chat about mindfulness on Tuesday, many shared tools and ideas I want to try. Take a look at this calendar from Montgomery Co Public Schools around self-care (thanks for sharing @PossBeth). Try a few in the upcoming week, see how you feel!

While most of the things on this list helped me overcome my temporary bout with high-stress and burnout, sometimes we need more assistance and help to find that help. The correlation between burnout and depression is strong and, for many, these techniques aren't enough. Before I stepped foot in a classroom I was given training on the ways my students could access more mental health services and support but it took years before I learned about help for me and my fellow educators, such as:

Seek a professional. Many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs or other opportunities to take advantage of free or nearly free counseling services.

Suicide prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255, with accessible services for people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing and in Spanish.

Consider getting trained in responding to someone who is in crisis. Many districts offer training in Question, Persuade, Respond program or other crisis response techniques to empower all people to intervene and prevent suicide.

My hope is that you know you're not alone. My deepest wish is that when you reach out for help PATINS can help you feel less "toasty-to-burned out" as you manage new expectations and challenges, you'll find an enthusiastic colleague and listening ear.

We're rooting for you!
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Recent Comments
Jessica Conrad
That's a great resource!
Thursday, 14 March 2019 21:46
Jessica Conrad
Ah, thanks for clarifying, I'll clarify in there too. Great ideas and so simple to implement in a busy classroom!
Thursday, 14 March 2019 21:47
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