Friday, June 6, 2014

Low on Fuel

It was one of those mornings where nothing is easy.  It was the last week of school and exhaustion was trying to overtake me like a relentless enemy.  It had been a great school year that flew by, and the last weeks were going by even faster!  It was as if I was on a treadmill turned on high speed with no off button!  Each year I try to prepare ahead for these whirlwind days that happen at the end of the school year.  There had been grades, surveys, certificates, academic awards, completion ceremonies, classroom parties and a To-Do list that never seemed to get any shorter.  As I got in my car that morning to drive to school, the dreaded low-fuel light flashed on the dashboard.

I knew I was getting low on gas, but I just had not been able to make it to a gas station.  Now, I had to just hope and pray that I would make it to work, and I would go to the gas station right after school.  Which I did, and it all worked out fine, thankfully!  So as the school year comes to an end, this experience made me think about how we can find ourself running on empty in our personal and professional lives.  It is not a fun place to be, so how can we avoid it?  Or, if we don't avoid it, how can we fix it?

I've been seeing many articles addressing teacher burnout but haven't felt led to read them because honestly, I feel more excited about teaching than ever before.  The integration of technology in my classroom and my PLN on Twitter have reenergized and inspired me to dig deeper and push myself to try new things.  I'm definitely not in a teaching rut, just more like needing some time to "refuel" before the next "road trip" with a new batch of kiddos.  But for some teachers, this may not be the case.  Maybe your year was so challenging and stressful that you are questioning your career choice.  Maybe some of the things you tried to accomplish with your students just didn't work out the way you planned and caused you to become discouraged.  Maybe you are exhausted from the professional expectations or demands on you and don't feel supported or equipped to meet them.  We each have different personal and professional situations that can cause us to run on fumes at times.  As a teacher, how can we avoid or fix the situation when our low fuel light is flashing?  Here are some things that my morning drive on low fuel made me think about:

1.  Listen to the warning signs:  Just like how I knew I was getting low on gas, we know when we are functioning on overload and wearing down.  Sometimes there is no other option than to just keep going, but eventually we all have to address the situation.  Try not to wait until the warning light comes on and the situation becomes serious.  A car is not going to get you anywhere without gas.  As teachers, we are not able to get our students where they need to be if we are not properly "fueled" for the task.  Listen to that inner voice when it tells you to slow down and take some time for yourself.

2.  Plan ahead:  I am a planner by nature.  Maybe I over plan some things, but I feel like much stress and anxiety can be avoided with a little planning.  I could have avoided the stress I felt that morning driving to school with the low fuel light staring at me.  Some things can't be avoided and unexpected things happen, but a little planning ahead can go a long way.  As teachers, if we plan ahead for stressful times like the end of the school year, we can be more relaxed and better able to enjoy the experience.

3.  Make it a priority:  For days, I knew I was getting low on gas, but I allowed other things to be more important.  I didn't make stopping at a gas station a priority and the outcome could have been serious.  I could have been stranded on the road that morning on my way to work.  Not a fun situation to find yourself dealing with!  As teachers, we have to make taking care of ourself a priority.  Yes, we are in a career of service to others.  We look after the needs of each of our students day after day.  In order to do that to the best of our ability, we must make it a priority to take care of ourself, so that we don't run out of gas along the way.

4.  Find the fuel you need:  The only thing that was going to help me that morning on my way to school was a gas station with the proper fuel for my car.  They are on just about every corner in my small town.  Some have better quality fuel than others, but sometimes anything is better than nothing!  As teachers, we need to know what fuels us.  What reenergizes and reinvigorates you?  For some people that is some quiet and relaxing time.  For others, it is being with people who are uplifting and inspiring.  And for some people, creating something or doing something different than what they normally do is what refuels them.  It may something extravagant or simple, but find whatever fuel you need to keep you going on your teaching journey.  

5.  Ask for help:  I could have asked my husband or sons to take my car to get it filled up with gas.  If I had run out of gas completely that morning, I would have been forced to call one of them for help.  That would not have been ideal, but that is what family and friends are supposed to do for each other.  As teachers, sometimes we need to swallow our pride and ask for help.  It is okay to not always have it together or know the answer.  We tell our students this, so we need to allow it for ourself.  That help may come in a conversation with a colleague who can relate to your situation, or it may come from someone in your Personal Learning Network that can help with specific needs as an educator.  Either way, embrace the help of others and be willing to help someone else who may be "running low" on fuel.

This summer I plan to refuel in many different ways.  Spending time with friends and family, getting reorganized at home and school, taking a trip or two, and reading and learning both professionally and personally.  As a teacher, I hope you will use this well-deserved time to refuel.  Here are a few professional resources that might reinvigorate and inspire you for the next school year: - A great selection of podcasts from leading educators. - A tremendous source of podcasts for educators. - Great resources and offerings from a trusted publishing company.

summer.html#.U5G47BagvLQ - I would love to go to this camp in Maine, but I will settle for his online PD opportunities. - I love Thinglink! I signed up for this and can't wait to learn more! - A great article for dealing with burnout.

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