Burned-INterview #1- This Burned-Out Teacher is Teaching with Her Emotions, When She Was Told Not To

Welcome to the very first Burned-INterview!

BiT Interviews are completely anonymous and are conducted to get to know what burned-out teachers are feeling or what they felt in the past, before they ended up leaving their education profession. 

AH: (Me!) Amber HarperBiT: Interviewee

AH: How long have you been teaching?

BiT: I've been teaching for 5 years.

AH: How many school systems have you worked in?

BiT: I've worked in two.

AH: Hey! Me too! Were the schools rural, suburban, or inner city?

BiT: One is a complete Title school with a high free/reduced lunch population. It is a rural school. The other used to be pretty affluent and now half are Title but not completely free/reduced lunch. There is more economic disparity than the other school system I worked in. It is suburban. 

AH: What school setting are you working in?

BiT: I work with elementary school students.

AH: Did you always want to be a teacher?

BiT: Yes, but I don't know when I decided or why I wanted to be one.

AH: Of all that is hard about being a teacher, what is burning you out the most?

BiT: I realized really quickly how little control teachers have. You think you get to plan and interact with students the way that you want to, but then you HAVE to do "X,Y, and Z." Making things transparent means having to share lesson plans with other teachers, principals, and other staff which makes me feel really micromanaged. It's like their always watching me, as opposed to watching out for me. 

AH: Where do you feel you are the most unsupported as a teacher?

BiT: I get no acknowledgement for the work that I do with kids from my administration. Education is going through a lot, so resources are being taken away from me and administration is just like, "Well, we don't have this anymore, so you need to figure out a way to deal with it, pull up your boot straps and move on."

I feel that the rug is pulled out from under us all the time and then they tell us, "Don't be emotional. Leave your emotions at the door. They have no place in the classroom. Your job is to teach. You are a teacher." 

Well, I WANT to get emotional! It's the only way that I can connect with my kids on a HUMAN level, you know? I work with KIDS! Things happen to us! Why should I not be allowed to show some friggin emotions? Come on. I'm not sorry.

AH: What do you feel is the best way to support a teacher who is burned-out?

BiT: Show a little empathy! I want to feel like I can identify with other teachers and that I am not alone in how I feel. I want others to feel like they can talk to me too. Like we are in this together! I mean, I want administrators to try to teach my students and see how they feel about it. You know?

AH: Oh, I know. I think about that a lot. Do you feel that you have other teachers to confide in?

BiT: Yes, I do. I have a coworker who I talk things through with. But, you know, you can't have a relationship where all you do is complain. We take a 'time-out' to complain about what happened and then we discuss what we can do about it to keep it from happening again. You know? It's really hard not to just bitch all of the time, but I want to solve the problem. Sometimes there is no real solution, though. It's WAY more helpful for me to confide in a teacher. Other professionals don't get it. They just shake their heads and say, "I don't know how you do it." Well, you know? I don't know how I do it sometimes either. (chuckle)

AH: What do you wish was available to burned-out teachers?

BiT:  I wish there was like, NOT Pinterest. Do you know what I mean? It makes me feel AWFUL! I don't have the time or the energy to spend making pretty things for my kids. And quite frankly, I don't think they'd care. Every one is always sharing their BEST lessons and BEST teaching life. TEACHING IS NOT PINTEREST PEOPLE! I want to be part of a community where teachers can build each other up and make each other feel awesome!

AH: Who do you feel you associate with best when you are at your worst? Energetic people or people who share in your unhappiness at school?

BiT: You mean when there is a problem and no one wants to acknowledge it? I would really like someone in the middle. Like, someone who will listen without judgement and offers solutions. Someone who gets it, but that is positive and helpful.

Take Aways and Burning Questions

I, personally, am a very emotional person. I am passionate and excitable and cry to show a variety of emotions. Just ask my co-workers and husband. It's the truth. So when our conversation turned to emotions, I was all ears.

Throughout our entire conversation, the topic of emotions kept returning over and over again. She told of her feelings of resentment from being micromanaged, inadequacy from not being trusted to do her job well, lack of real control over her life within the walls of her school, and disappointment that the word 'transparency' has become a way of being checked on, instead of looked out for by her fellow teachers and administrators.

This teacher has been told on many occasions that she is to, "Leave emotions at the door. Whatever happened this morning, weekend, or the night before has no place in the classroom. Your job as a teacher is to teach the curriculum and when you bring in outside baggage, you are distracted and, therefore, not focused on teaching."

Is this realistic? She answered this question herself:

Why are we told to leave our emotions at the door? We should be using those emotions to connect with students on a HUMAN level. 

Teachers are social animals. We CRAVE communication and emotional connection. In fact, we don't just crave it, we THRIVE on it. And yet we are literally locked into a room, with children, and told not to be emotional. 

Should we be expected to pack down all of our emotions for the sake of breaking some invisible 'emotion boundary' that lies mysteriously between teacher and human?

Upon hearing about the Sandy Hook shootings, back in 2014, the teacher I interviewed was devastated, as was the World. When she entered her classroom the next day, a student approached her and asked, "... if that happened here, you would protect us, right?" Curriculum out the window. Insert emotional conversation about fear, guns, and the need for love.

How do you NOT get emotional when tragedy happens and you are asked a question like that by a child? 

I challenge you this week to take the advice of this teacher.      

OWN YOUR HUMANITY.  Be an emotional teacher. Get excited about your ability to shape lives or that you got a new car. Teach them the steps you took to save for it. Get angry about events in history, that you spilled your coffee all over the carpet right before the kids walked in, or that a student puked all over your phone while you were reading together. Talk to them about it. Then, teach them how you controlled that anger.

Here are some take-aways from our discussion about solutions to feeling over-emotional at school:

- Talk to others about how you are feeling without the fear of being judged. Other teachers are feeling the same way you are. Have a healthy, constructive conversation about them. Ask questions. Make suggestions. Connect, talk, cry or laugh with other teachers. Show emotions to each other.

- Leave. Go home and do something that makes you happy. I rarely stay past my contract time these days, because I have found that if I stay, I begin to find things to keep me busy. I'm happier and able to control my emotions better.

- Know you are not alone. When a student thew up all over my phone last week, I took a 20 min break and cried in the bathroom. That was the tipping point that day for me and I had had it. I didn't want anyone else to know, but they found out... just like they always do. My friends talked me down. They reminded me that I, in fact, wasn't crazy and that I am a human-being. (Also, that they would have also lost their minds if someone tossed their cheerios all over their lifeline!) Losing your cool is part of being alive. That felt good to hear. 

Do you agree? What are YOU doing to own your emotions within your four walls? 

I know you are not excited to share your thoughts with me via social media. I totally get it! Send me an email at burnedinteacher@gmail.com and let me know your thoughts. Want to talk? I can interview YOU too! Other teachers want to hear your stories. It helps us feel connected and human.