End of the School Year “Blahs”

Mary Ribeiro
Special Education Teacher

We have entered the time of the year when teachers of all students are marking time. We are following our well-established patterns and routines. We are doing the same things day in and day out. Our teams begin to feel more easily frustrated with each other. Words become more sharp, less measured. Looks become more terse, less tender. Our Frustration-O-Meter goes from zero to red zone with alarm horns blaring in about sixty seconds or less.

We're burned out. We're ready for summer. We're done.

No amount of one-day-offs will be the cure for the common theme: boredom and frustration. We've chosen joy, we've made active decisions to love our kids, we've bought a new outfit to spice up our wardrobe, we've escaped for a long weekend away, we've enjoyed an extra nice dinner with our loved one.

Nothing is helping. We're depressed? We're resentful? We're considering other careers?

Within the construct of every career imaginable, there are cycles of emotion. This is no secret to anyone who relies on an entity of any size or shape for a paycheck.

But what I really wish I learned in college is HOW TO DEAL WITH THIS EMOTIONAL PENDULUM.

Keep in mind that in Teacher Years, I'm about 1,000 years old. This is not my first rodeo and yet every year, save for perhaps one or two, this cycle comes around. The eagerness, zeal, and excitement bubbling through us in August slowly and cyclically gives way to the trials and travails of our day to day routines.

Our hearts ache when little Susie comes to school daily in urine-soaked clothes because no one at home is supporting her as a parent should. We work hard to write IEP's and then are told the recommendations are not appropriately suited to the student, making us feel like our observations and data triangulation skills are less-than. A new student arrives at your door with significant needs which may make you feel as though your level of competence has just been reduced to rubble. Your family tries to be empathetic, but then they are maddened by your up and down emotions because they don't understand that our days look just like that-up and down. Inside out.

Maybe we feel sorry for ourselves because we believe no one gets it. No one really understands. Teachers who have retired are swift to say, "I left because it's getting worse," and then there is that ray of sunshine who says, "I had a wonderful career, I have loved every minute of it…but it is getting so much more difficult for teachers."

There has to be a place, a voice of reason, a support system, a non-toxic group of people who can solidly support us.

We seek to discuss it with our parents or grandparents, but quickly realize that because they're part of the Greatest Generation, we are to swallow our emotions, stomp down the skeletons under our rugs, buck up, and do it.

There's merit in that.

We discuss it with our aunts, uncles, or other family members who are Gen X'ers and are told to view it as a project-one with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yard by yard is hard, but inch by inch, it's a cinch.

There's merit in that.

We discuss it with our adult children, our Millennials. Their vantage point reminds us that we're working toward a greater good. We're building up a new generation who need us to provide them with support and a way to see that they are part of a bigger picture, but really, in actuality, it is all about our own personal needs.

There's merit in that.

We want to discuss our thoughts with peers and to share our hearts with our administrations, but we fear we will be tagged as unstable, unable, or unbalanced. A weak link.

We're not.

In a report quoted in EdWeek.org, Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices, nearly half of the respondents queried said they would leave teaching if they could find higher paying jobs. Still another article out of England shares that nearly 1/3 of British teachers are taking time off for mental health issues directly linked to work.

I present this information not to distress but to inform. If you're feeling bummed out at this time of the year, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. It is not considered politically correct to talk about this issue in may locales, but if we do NOT discuss it, it will get worse. Knowledge is power, right?

I am not here to be your Fluffer. It is not my job to blow rainbow kisses and candy coated euphemisms to you. I will not be the one to tell you, "You're so smart. You're so pretty. You're awesome at your job." I am here to tell you that I am a Sister in the Struggle.

What possible solution is there?

Girl, please! I don't know, but if I did, I would write a book about it, market the mess out of it, and make my zillion dollars on which I will retire, but as I summarize the points made by those teachers with whom I've discussed my true feelings of late, it is clear that the tool for surviving and thriving is one simple thing: choice.

Ugh. Choosing? I feel like most of the solutions I present to readers of this blog boil down to this one simple (or is it?) act of mindset.

I know you don't want to hear it. I know I don't want to hear it.

I want to hear that I'm so smart. I'm so pretty. My work matters. My parents and students all love me. I am perfect. I am a genius. My administration thinks the sun rises and sets around me. My coworkers think I'm perfection. My lesson plans are perfect. My ideas are truly inspirational.

I have spent hours and hours and hours and hours researching ways to best support teachers who feel like it's always gray outside, who feel like nothing they do is good enough. Whose families are constantly frustrated by their moods…and how those moods may swing. How if Little Jimmy says, "I can't" one more time…but the one reality about this topic has come so clear, so crisply waving in the air like a white flag signaling surrender: surviving and thriving through the school year's remainder is quite simply A CONSCIOUS DECISION.

There's no doubt we live in a world of negativity and that we are constantly barraged by blather, but when I did the Math the other day and realized that I have my sweet babies for only 266 more hours this school year, it shocked me. Then I sat down and made a list of what all we have accomplished this year. It shocked me. We got a lot done!

I have decided that I am the only person responsible for my emotions and my actions. I cannot be accountable for the way people respond to them. This has lightened the load of guilt I feel and has probably made a few therapists quite happy to know a message was received. The people who love me CHOOSE to love me. They can also choose not to love me. I can't make this choice for them. But there is one thing I do know-I love ‘dem babies of mine at school and no matter how difficult our days are, 266 hours is not much time left to finish a job I have started-a job I know was done really well. Perfectly? Nope. Not even close. And maybe, just maybe, my resuscitated energy will be contagious. My kids feed off my energy-it's one of the specific traits of Special Needs children that I think I love most-they are like little mirrors and if we're clever enough to pick up on it, we will see in them what we are putting forth.

Uh oh. Time to fix it.

The rest of the year will be filled with annual review meetings, unexpected personal life events, frustrated family members, year-end events and activities, and eventually, close-out procedures as we head off on summer break.

If you need a listening ear, feel free to reach out. I'm not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but I've probably "been there, done that," and might have some wisdom to share. Do seek positive energy. If you feed the negative, it will do its job effectively every time.

No matter what the media may say, being a teacher is still a great gig.

Learn more about becoming a teacher.

Mary Ribeiro

Mary Ribeiro

Mary has always loved learning, but was a struggling learner who couldn’t read until one day, the right teacher came along with the right methodology, and everything clicked for Mary. Understanding the struggles of children who just “don’t get it,” Mary has spent her career supporting children with learning difficulties and finding ways to excite them about education. Over her career, Mary has taught Second Grade, Third Grade, and served as a Middle School Administrator in Michigan, most often in the urban setting. In 2015, Mary relocated to Arkansas in search of new opportunities and is excited at all that has been placed before her. She currently teaches Special Education in a self-contained setting for children in grades 2-4.
Mary Ribeiro