There’s Tired, And Then There’s Teacher Tired

Stop seeing teachers as miracle workers responsible for healing societal ills

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I feel like collapsing at 3 p.m. every single day. I’m just finished with my last class, and then there’s just way too much to do. I have to call parents, grade papers, write IEPs, put in progress reports, document everything, and just do a ton of work I’ll never catch up on. It wasn’t that I was working for a long time, but the mental and emotional investment I put into my job as a special ed teacher is just exhausting.

There’s tired, and then there’s teacher tired.

I’ve worked plenty of jobs before, including more physically intensive jobs like supervising a gym or working as a picker at an Amazon warehouse. None of those jobs are as emotionally exhausting as teaching, where you feel like a zombie at the end of every single day, with a strong need to sleep or just sit on the couch, incapable of doing anything for hours.

Teacher tired is having a whole desk pile up during the year, and never decrease in size. Teacher tired is having an inbox of 1,500 e-mails, with many you don’t have the bandwidth to check. Teacher tired is obsessively checking the clock waiting for the day to end, checking the calendar praying for Friday to come sooner. Teacher tired is working even when you have to take a personal day for kids, parents, teachers or administrators who need something, to be the subject of political football of politicians who have never been teachers, of people who don’t understand putting all of yourself, and never having it be enough, of people telling you how to do your job and not actually doing it themselves.

Teacher tired is having an endless amount of meetings a day, at worst to be chewed out for being able to do nothing right, and at best to waste a lot of time not checking off everything off your checklist.

Some people might shake their heads while reading and say teachers only work 40 hours a week. But it feels like you’re drowning, all the time. You only make it higher to the surface, but never quite get above water. It’s so much more than the time you actually spend teaching and the 40 hours. The exhaustion you feel as a teacher is just so different from anything else you’ll ever do.

It’s not usually a game of thriving — it’s usually a game of surviving. Teachers are told you have to meditate, do yoga, exercise and have a healthy diet to self-care, all while also being told they have to bring up test scores, get in 50 reports, get their shit together in the classroom, and put in more grades. Teachers are told to “professionally develop” and attend two-hour sessions of being lectured at when the best way to professionally develop is to, you know, catch up on grading, e-mails, conferences, and phone calls. Oh, and you’re not allowed to lecture — instead, you have to plan out every five-minute segment of your lesson, anticipate every problem, keep students so engaged their eyes are glued to the content, and be penalized for every problem you couldn’t handle.

Teacher tired as a new teacher feels like hazing, no matter the level of support you’re given, just as I have received an ample amount of support, praise, and encouragement. Teacher tired is being given the furthest behind and most difficult students and classes in your first year, and then being penalized for not being able to work miracles. Teacher tired is having a colleague, or multiple colleagues out sick, and being asked to combine classes, watch a class with students that aren’t yours. Teacher tired is coming in even when sick to avoid a hostile environment and more work when you come back.

No, it is not administrators’ faults — they have an even more extreme kind of tired called “principal tired.” Many teachers see the bags under their principal and assistant principal’s eyes’, and acknowledge the only thing more stressful than being a teacher is being a principal.

Rather, it’s a culture that treats everyone in the system as machines of production, a culture that prioritizes appearances in numbers and optics more than it does actual achievement, progress, or the mental and emotional well-being of the people who work in that system.

Teacher tired is constantly being the subject of “gotcha” culture and management, of a system that looks for a head to cut off and someone to blame rather than an actual solution to a problem. The system wants teachers to be against each other, and I would argue it wants administrators and teachers pitted against each other too. It’s easier to make everyone to feel like everyone else is out to get them, for every person to be out for themselves, for the system to make scapegoats so everyone else can cover their ass.

Teacher tired is bearing the brunt for not being able to fix far-reaching societal ills like systemic racism and poverty. Teacher tired is being told it’s okay to struggle, but just not being allowed to show it. Teacher tired is being asked, especially during COVID-19, to be a telemarketer, IT specialist, social worker, and so much more. Teacher tired is having constantly changing expectations and initiatives, and never getting enough time to actually adjust to the last initiative and grading policy.

You and I have had teachers we thought were just “meh.” What I didn’t know before I became a teacher was how much pressure there is, how toxic the system can be, and above all, what it really felt like to be teacher tired. If they told people who dream of being teachers that this is what it’s like, that this is what it feels like, then no one would be a teacher, especially when they’re told and incentivized to get higher-paying jobs anyway. No teacher recruitment flyer for Teach for America or any other teaching program says “be prepared to be more tired and disillusioned you’ve ever been in your life.”

I love being a teacher more than I love anything else besides God. I do the best I can, and what I’ll say is that no teacher starts their career or navigates their day thinking “I’m going to be a terrible teacher and I’m just in this for the paycheck” — every single educator out there, especially today, is doing the best they can. And to stop our society-wide plague of low teacher retention, it’s time to lighten the load on teachers.

Above all, it’s time to stop seeing teachers as miracle workers responsible for healing societal ills. Until then, the cycle of a toxic culture will keep on spinning.

Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of “The Wire.” Email: ryanfan17@gmail.com. Support me: ko-fi.com/ryanfan

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