This week marked the 19th anniversary of September 11th. Although every year I try to honor the day with some kind of remembrance exercise, this year it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I heard a commentator say that this week that in Time magazine the cover will be outlined in black to remember the almost 200,000 Americans who have lost their lives during the pandemic so far. The last time they made that change to the cover was after 9/11 to remember those we lost.
And then I realized why this year felt so different.
That collective trauma is something we’re currently experiencing again.
When 9/11 happened I was a student teacher. I remember the absolute feeling of overwhelm I experienced myself and getting “in the trenches training” to put a stiff upper lip on for my students in those days, weeks, maybe even years that followed. It was expected I would process all of this in private and provide students with support.
Self-care was not a buzzword, and it certainly wasn’t something that was talked about in regard to teaching. Teaching during this time was about working hard. Giving selflessly. Staying late. Taking work home. It was about giving your all even when things in your life were turned upside down-like it was for so many of us after 9/11 happened (or when any other life stuff happens for that matter!).
Now I get it, students don’t need to deal with their teachers’ problems. I’m certainly not advocating that. But there is a pervasive culture in many of our schools that teachers need to do their job at school and then figure out how to care for themselves on their own time.
I’m here to posit that this compartmentalizing makes for an incredibly toxic culture and one that isn’t going to model for students how to care for themselves and others when things go awry again (like right now).
I make this parallel to 9/11 because some time in March 2020 (for me it was March 13) you probably had the experience of your world being completely upended by the coronavirus pandemic, in some way. It was similar to what we felt as a country during those moments after 9/11, but there’s a tremendous difference. After 9/11we needed to pick up pieces, but it was a singular event that happened. We could focus on this day, process it, and then we could move forward together.
Today we’re six months in and still not “through” it. As teachers our time is just starting with how to pick up the pieces while the rubble is still falling. We’re all part of this grand experiment in one way or another of how to open schools safely with a pandemic still happening.
So given that we all know we’re part of the experiment, I’d like to invite you (because I’m taking on this challenge myself) to create your own experiment. Unlike after 9/11 when no one was talking too much about self-care or burnout or SEL to help us through the collective trauma, can you conduct your own experiment with your own self-care?
I’ve heard so many utterances on social about not being able to keep up the pace this year. How this is too difficult. How there’s got to be a different way. Yes to all of it. But if schools are not operating as business as usual, why don’t we conduct a grand experiment and use this time as a way to not conduct yourself as business as usual either. And I mean that in a good way. Experiment with scheduling and mapping out your self-care first. Then fill in the rest.
I just went through this exercise because admittedly I looked at my own routine for the past three weeks and to put it bluntly, I’m a mess in some areas. Yes, I’m still running but that’s not ever what slips. When I sat down and did a true inventory, I’m lacking sleep and my after dinner “snack” choices have revealed that I’m both not hungry but extremely stressed. I also realized that the entire work week I didn’t meditate at all. For someone who recommends that being such a great way to manage stress, I really needed to look at what was going on.
So I’m being honest with you, because that’s what I try to be. I just spent time sorting through and making a plan with sleep the first thing I filled in. Then I worked backwards from there.
So start with the thing you know you need the most. Schedule that and see how the rest of the “things” fall into place. Just focus on that main priority for a few days or a week and see if anything else makes it apparent to you that it needs your attention.
If you’re looking for a little more guidance, check out this Teacher Self-Care Triage PDF if you’d like a little quick guide to introducing self-care into your life and you aren’t sure where to start.
So as we continue to be part of this experiment, know that I’m right there with you. We all have some kind of memories about 9/11 as either students or teachers. We got through that tragedy together and we will weather this storm, but as I heard someone ask and I will ask all of you…
“Who do you want to be on the other side of all of this?”
When you look back on this point in your personal history,
what do you want your history to show?
Take that answer and hold that as your shining star to move toward.
Take the first step toward that answer this week.
If you take the time to create your own teacher self-care experiment, I’d love to hear what you’ve come up with and if I can be a support I will try, but as I promised you be patient with me…I’m prioritizing 7 hours of sleep!