Life Lessons

It was time to make choice

September 2020 marked the start of my 20th year teaching. In that time, I have had the pleasure of using an overhead projector, having my TV also be my computer screen for my entire class, as well as having those moments thinking to myself that I have no idea what I am doing.

During those year of teaching, I clearly had my ups and downs. I have had lessons that were off the hook amazing as well as lessons that were utter disasters. I still can remember my first year teaching and getting observed by my supervisor. A kid stood on his desk and yelled at the top of his lungs that he did not get what we were doing. Let’s just say that I was ready to grab my things and say to myself that I gave it my best shot.

Thanks D. Baumwoll for visiting and making my day!

During my early years of teaching, my mentor Dale Baumwoll would always tell me to not get so worked up about teaching. Not to let my stress levels get the best of me. She would always show concern for me. She was not a mentor as much as she was my therapist and later one of my absolute most favorite people in the world. She would try and teach me all of these calming activities. She would even mention books that I should read to deal with the stress that my job was causing me. Even to this day, when I see her I automatically feel calm and relaxed. She has a gift and I’m happy that i got to learn from her, even though at the time, I wasn’t ready to hear or learn from her wisdom. The torch was then passed to one of my best friends, Jessica Swaim.

Halloween magic with J.Swaim

Jessica was very similar. She was always trying to get me to not get so worked up about work and try and have more fun. She would try to convince me to do things outside of work, but I would resist. To cheer me up, she used to put a Boston cream donut on my desk. Let’s just say that it worked a little as they are my favorite. Even with her efforts, I still was getting so worked up and stressed about my job.

Some people go their whole lives and feel like people never cared about them. I feel fortunate to know I have always had people there for me. I’m not talking about family as much as I’m talking about work friends. Some people are constant rays of sunshine like A. Hodgson and some you treat like a sibling like L. Fiore. Some are there when you are at your weakest like N. Cocca and some are there just to brighten up your day like S. Suydam. Some are there to model what it means to be an amazing human being like J. Wagener, and some are there to model 100% absolute compassion like S. Wess. Some are there to act like a brother like W. Zagoren and some are there to treat like you are their little brother like T. Silverschotz. Some are there to laugh at your jokes and give a listening ear like K. Mate and some are there to introduce you to some fine music like L. Mason. Even with these amazing people around me, I still needed to learn how to deal with stress and frustration better.

When a colleague would get upset, I would get upset for them. I would get so worked up that my face would turn red and one would think I was the one who was wronged. I found that I was looking for things to get mad at. I would complain and complain and complain. In reality, I was becoming toxic.

This is not to say that I would not try to make others feel better. In fact, it is one of my favorite things to do. I just realized that I had a problem. When I care for people, I care at an extreme level. I want to make those people feel like they are being heard and that they know they are not alone. On the flip side, when I would become angry or upset or stressed, it would be at the extreme. It is not a healthy way to live.

The stress over the years came to a head when my chest hurt so much, I thought I was having a heart attack. Luckily it was not. My stress most likely contributed to my needing blood pressure medicine. It most likely led to having constant neck and back pain. Even with all of those things, I still was not ready to change.

In this time period, I found myself spending so much time on school work that in hindsight I realized that I was neglecting the needs of my family at time. I was spending so much time on work that when kids would not complete assignments, I would take it personally. I realize that it is not personal, but it I would become quite frustrated.

That brings me to October 2020. It appeared that the time came when a real change was about to happen. I was thinking about how much by back hurt. I thought maybe I pulled something. Maybe I cut myself. I had no idea. After going to the doctor, it turned out that I had a case of shingles. My dr. said it was most likely brought on due to stress. What a year 2020 has been. I had Flu A, Flu B, and now shingles. After taking some time off of work, I knew I had to make a change in my life to not let stress get to me. The moment came during a lesson about the causes of the Civil War.

I was teaching my kids about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I was explaining that after people in the North read the book, they had a choice to make. Were they going to get involved and try to end slavery or would they just be bystanders to what was going on? The South had a choice as well. They could have decided it was a northerner who wrote the book so who cares. They could have chosen get really angry and become more willing to fight to keep slavery. It hit me at that moment that I had a choice.

I had a choice to let the current teaching environment get to me or I could do what I can to make the best of the situation. I decided to make a change. I decided I wanted to be happy. I wanted to love my job again as opposed to dreading it. I decided that I was not going to let stress run my life. I looked up meditation videos on YouTube, I checked out different types of relaxing music, and decided to decorate my classroom . I also decided I was going to make more time for my family, tell my kids more that I love them and that I am proud of them. I also wanted to make sure to tell my wife how much I love her as well.

Hot chocolate for bus drivers with K. Reid

I knew in order to begin my change, I needed a fellow teacher who would help me on my journey to be a better person and be someone who I could work with to help me deal with the stressful environment that we are living in. Thankfully, Mrs. Reid was there to be my support. We made a pact that we would eat lunch together occasionally and only talk about non-work items. We agreed to talk more positively. We agreed we would send each other positive messages to help each other get through the day. I then convinced one of our school counselors, Mrs. Wagener to join the group. I’m hoping to expand this group to a few other of my work buddies. Like they always say, there is strength in numbers.

Halloween fun with J. Wagener

In a short time, I had three of the best days of work. I laughed, I saw smiles on my student’s faces, and I left happy. I LEFT HAPPY! I can’t stress that enough. Why I am saying this? I have a lot of teacher friends and most of them are really struggling. We are teaching in an environment that is extremely stressful. I had a discussion with my students about why do we stress over things that we cannot control? I know we all do it. The problem is we are battling something that we cannot win. It is time we support one another and help each other deal with those situations out of our control. What we can control is how we respond to stressful environments.

I’m not saying that I will be able to do this all of the time, but what I am saying is I don’t want stress to kill me or anyone I know. I don’t want stress to make the amazing educators that I know feel distraught or like they are drowning. I don’t want my friends to feel like they aren’t making a difference because I know that they are.

I’m making the choice to better myself while helping the people around me see how amazing they are and how amazing they can be.