This past year was the most challenging of my life. It’s ridiculous how generic and yet all encompassing that sentence is. From my father’s lung transplant during Institute to the wild behavior and pure contempt I handled on a daily basis in the classroom (what’s up, sixth period!) I never really had a second to process. (I guess that’s why Teach For America rattles on about reflection and perhaps why it was so front-loaded during induction and institute.) And when I did, I couldn’t JUST reflect–I had to refine and regroup and produce a plan of action before I could calm myself about it. Even my mental processes were work. I trained my brain to replay events and contemplate alternatives to most interactions I was having. I’d spend showers considering what to say to a parent and I’d spend my drive to and from work mentally lesson planning. I never just had a second to breathe and if I did I felt like every breath free of work was pushing me away from Transformational. After this hectic (and beautiful) year concluded I realize I have few friends in my immediate vicinity outside of the corps, I haven’t been home in months, and I can’t recall the last time I felt completely healthy. What does this realization bring me to? The decision to teach summer school with nothing more than a weekend between the regular year and the summer session.
I finish teaching summer school in two days. I’m definitely looking forward to staying up later and sleeping in later. I’m excited to have more flexibility in my schedule. I’m terrified I’ve forgotten how to relax. That statement assumes I’ve known how to at some point, and I’m not exactly confident in that notion either. This past weekend I had a saturday without a to-do list. I tried to sit on the couch and watch TV but I quickly felt anxious “wasting” time. I got up, cleaned, went through clothes in my closet and packed a few things. I went to take a nap but my mind wouldn’t stop spinning. Eventually, I went to swim laps at the pool. Why can’t I handle down time? Is this the ambitious person’s curse? Does Teach for America select highly motivated people knowing that they are likely to Stop At Nothing because We Don’t Know How To Stop.
With all the stress I put myself under during the school year and with all the deadlines I’m consistently fighting to meet, you’d think I’d relish a day or two of nothingness. I just can’t seem to do it.
Is this why so many of our SC 2012 Corps members accepted temporary jobs over the summer? Do we need constant occupation and challenge to stop our brains from weaving webs of anxiety and guilt? Is the lack of focus on mental health a contributing factor to TFA teacher burn out? With so many posts about the 2013s dealing with Institute, I wonder if we start this cycle ourselves when we survive (and occasionally thrive) in the institute environment or if most people embrace the change of pace and slow down during the regular year. Have exhaustion and anxiety paved the way to Transformational since the birth of that ideal or do I need to balance my breathing and my being before I can reach a better position for myself and for my students?