STOP #4 Adelaide, South Australia

The Triumphs  

Eighty-three years of teaching experience.
Watch for the telling sparkle in the eyes and smile of a teacher who is lighting up as they speak about their students, in particular “the tough nuts to crack”. I’ve heard it again and again on this tour. This is the immeasurable magic of teaching, the intoxicating pride and joy of a teacher who has fought to connect with a tricky student by overcoming countless challenges. It sounds sweet, but let’s be clear that this is no easy feat. It takes patience, forgiveness, and dedication.
This is that same student who swore and resisted for months. 
That same student who struggled to trust yet another adult who could let them down. 
That same student who lashed out repeatedly, kicking and screaming when feeling overwhelmed. 

Academic progress is but one piece of the puzzle. We are detectives, sifting through interests and motivations, searching for the clues to support our students’ lifelong love of learning. We keep searching for ways to support their social-emotional progress; we build up their resilience, guide them through problem-solving, and demonstrate the rewarding effect of genuine kindness. All of it is embedded into our approach and woven through our delivery of curriculum. We have the opportunity to leave students with a memory of a teacher who truly believed in everything that they could achieve, as well as everything that they could one day succeed in if they believed it too. 

Quotes from the road: 

“I was living and breathing teaching, until I wasn’t.” 
“I still haven’t learned to switch off and set boundaries, I don’t want to let the school down.” 
“The expectations from the school are high, but my own are probably even higher.” 

If you’re looking for examples of verbal red flags, here are a few. I can still hear myself learning and re-learning the lesson of burnout in my first five years of teaching. The determination to work a little harder, push through a little longer, and stretch my limits. We burn through all of our spare time (afternoons, nights, weekends) and risk becoming completely consumed by the flames of passion that we feel for teaching. It reduces our energy to nothing but a pile of ash. You are not alone if you have fallen into this pattern of thinking. It is continuing to crop up across both states (SA and VIC), with specific language being echoed by the masses. 

"No boundaries."
"Exhaustingly high expectations." 
Teachers are describing the pressure to prove their personal and professional worth to a school, while dodging immense guilt felt when caring for their own needs. Teachers are teetering on the edge of burnout from overworking, while meeting deadlines and demands that feel unnecessary and irrelevant for student learning. 

The Challenges 

“It takes a lot of effort to make something appear effortless.”  

Imagine if the public could understand the scope of intentional and incidental learning that comes with working inside a classroom. If anything, our capacity to love our students more than the curriculum, and be endlessly questioning whether we are doing enough. We find ourselves trapped on a weekly basis, between fighting off teacher guilt to do more and advocating for our wellbeing to do less.  

I’ll say it once, and I’ll say it a million times if needed: 

We must refuse to light ourselves on fire to keep others warm. 
Reject the narrative of the selfless, self-sacrificing teacher.
Reject burn out and any leader who is pushing you to the brink of burnout. 

And that’s hard, because this idea is so deeply ingrained in society’s belief of what makes a good teacher. Look back at the historical rules for teachers in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Educators were forced to live a life without romance or marriage, childless, solely dedicated to their students, sacrificing their personal wants and needs.

My best advice is to regularly take the time to imagine that you are talking to a person who you love and care about; imagine that they are making the same repeated sacrifices of time and energy. You can see that they are burning quickly through the candle at both ends.

Would you allow this to keep happening? 

Would you watch as they burned out, or would you step in? 

Start stepping in for yourself by finding the school that cares if you're burning out.

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