By Jennie Slack (she/her), President, Provincial Intermediate and Middle Years Teachers’ Association, and teacher, Burnaby
Teaching is a profession that is an endless time sink. There is always something more we could do: our lessons could be more engaging; our worksheets could be more appealing; we could create more manipulatives for our math lesson; we could give more detailed feedback on those essays we’re marking. If teachers were given three extra hours a day, we could fill them with nothing but planning and still wish we had more time.
Teaching is also a profession that draws on your emotional energy. We teach because we care, and caring for so many young people means that instead of having one, or two, or three children, we have thirty, or forty, or a hundred. Did Johnny have a lunch today? Was Mohamed able to find a friend to play with at recess? How is Xi Wen doing since their mother went back to China for another three months? Did Tina get enough sleep last night? How can I support Ryder’s mum, who has to work night shifts, in helping Ryder complete their homework?
It is a daily truth for us that our students bring their home lives with them when they come to school. It is equally true that when we teachers go home, we take our school-day worries with us. This can be overwhelming, especially when our homes have their own stresses, and as we are navigating the world amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We may have spouses, children, or aging parents. We may have health concerns, home maintenance issues, or budgetary constraints. We may have hobbies we never get enough time for and passions we feel we’re neglecting. And we often have the guilt that no matter what we do, it is never enough.
Teachers are superheroes. We try to do it all, and often we succeed, but sometimes that comes at a very high cost. Compassion fatigue is endemic among teachers and can lead to serious physical and mental health concerns. We have to acknowledge that we are human and respect our limitations. Sometimes it is vital to take off that superhero cape, look at what we’re doing, acknowledge a need to conserve our energy, and say, “You know what, that’s good enough.” Could I spend another 15 minutes on this handout to make it perfect? Yes, but it’s good enough. Is this lesson exactly as I’d like it and covering all the aspects of the new curriculum I want it to? No, but it’s good enough. Did I respond to Rhett’s emotional issue in the way most likely to help them? Maybe not, but I tried my best and that has to be good enough.
We cannot be everything to everyone all the time. The good news is, we don’t have to be. We are one adult in the lives of the children coming through our rooms. We are one of many teachers they will interact with, learn from, and connect with. We don’t have to do it all, because there are others to share the load. So, if we are in a place where we can’t be our best teacher-self, if we only have the energy and emotional capacity to be “good enough,” that is, indeed, good enough.
This article was originally published on the PITA blog: www.pita.ca/blog/in-defence-of-not-being-a-super-hero