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Why I Don't Miss School Breaks as a Former Teacher With Lupus

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I’ve been living on the “school schedule” for practically my entire life. Since I was 3 years old, I have been either a student or a teacher and experienced the kinds of breaks that come with that. Summer break, Thanksgiving break, winter break, spring break and more with some variety have been a part of my existence since I started Pre-K.

Now that I have changed my career path, I’m finding I don’t actually miss the breaks. I’ve been thinking about why.

When I was living on the “school schedule,” both as a student and as a teacher, there was a different kind of pressure that came with completing tasks. Deadlines and time limits are a part of the work experience in general and are not unique to school, but what made these limits so hard for me was how public they were.

There is a reason that teachers and students get breaks throughout the year; school is mentally, physically, psychologically and socially exhausting. Educators need that break for self-care so they can give their
whole selves back to their students. Not only that, but being “on stage,” as I called it while I was teaching, doesn’t just extend to when you are standing in front of the students.

Anywhere you go, you are representing the fact that you are an educator. It’s a defining part of you. When I was in college, we were scared into this fact. At the grocery store? A parent may walk by and see something in your shopping cart they don’t approve of. At a restaurant? Better make sure you are with quality people, aren’t drinking alcohol of any kind and are dressed appropriately.

Now, things were not quite this harsh in my real-life experience, but that may be because I found myself in a quality community who understood that teachers are not superhuman. However, in many aspects, teachers are expected to be superhuman.

When I was teaching, I was at the school by 6:45 a.m. and didn’t leave until 6 p.m. I was physically in front of my students from 7:45 a.m. – 3 p.m., then worked After School Care from 3 – 6 p.m., and then had to plan, prep, design, grade, create and more in the between time I was not in the school building. Weekends were often dedicated to the following week, the next big unit project, report cards, professional development and much more.

Even now, I still think about the students who crossed my path. In the throes of a school year, you think about your students all the time. Evenings, weekends, holidays, it doesn’t matter. Those kids are in your care, and your goal and purpose is to do anything in your power to help them be happy and succeed.

It never actually ends. I’m not teaching anymore, and my students constantly cross my mind. I can be looking through books and think about a certain kiddo who loved big cats, or another who loved Harry Potter. I can see the color red and think of that little boy who only wanted to wear red because Spider Man was his favorite.

Does this sound exhausting? Because it is.

I went to college to study education before I got my diagnosis. I was two weeks into my student teaching when my rheumatologist was able to tell me what was wrong. I went into teaching thinking I could just will my body to work past its problems like I had all my life. We can all see how
well that turned out…

I’ve been out of teaching since June.

I am told all the time how much better I look. Part of me becomes very upset when I hear this. Not because I’m being told that I look healthy, or because people care enough about me to be happy that I look better, but because I feel like I failed.

I feel like I didn’t try hard enough. I allowed my body to betray me and I lost everything. I gave my life to my students, their families and our school, and it just wasn’t enough.

My self-esteem was decimated, but I couldn’t allow myself to fully crumble. I still had plenty of little eyes watching me, and I refused to allow them to watch me crack and disappear.

I moved on and did the next best thing. I kept myself as an important member within my community. I still see my kiddos and their families, am able to watch them grow, do fun things with them and can give back to people I genuinely care about.

I no longer have those long breaks throughout the year, and you know what? I don’t need them in the same way anymore.

I remember telling myself to just hold on for a few more weeks, days, hours before break because I could just feel my body wavering. I would push myself to my threshold and beyond, and by the time breaks would come, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy them.

They became a physical recovery, and maybe they would be long enough for me to deal with the other parts of myself that needed rest, but often there wasn’t enough time. They were a goal to keep an eye on throughout the year, and all I had to do was survive until the next one.

I am in a much better place now. My lupus still attacks and drags me many steps back without warning, but I am working on the fear that I am going to be thrown away because of it. I have worth and purpose. I do good for my family, friends and community.

My illness may not fully define me, but it has made me look closer at my priorities. I need to remind myself that I have so many wonderful things in my life, and I am able to make a difference as long as I am well enough to do so.

I never know exactly how I am going to feel each day, but I’m learning to be forgiving of this.

This post originally appeared on A Wealth of Wolfsbane.

Photo via flyparade on Getty Images

Originally published: December 28, 2017
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