Keep Calm an Carry On

Aside from the fact that I was sick for most of it, Christmas vacation was glorious. As I do approaching every holiday off from school, I had made grand plans for all I was going to accomplish to not only catch up on school work (grading and planning), but get ahead on planning so to try to ease the burden once back to school. However, once vacation actually arrived, I had already gotten my “Christmas Cold” as my husband calls it, and I was in great need of a genuine break. The first day of vacation found me on the couch with a book. As did the next day. During vacation I took care of household responsibilities, hung out with my husband, read, wrote, colored, and spent time with family. It was one of the most relaxing, stress and anxiety free vacations I have ever had.

I went back to school last Monday determined to maintain that peace and not allow stress and anxiety to take over again. I’ve been working for years to learn how to live a healthier balance between work and home. I actually feel like I am making progress in this as I have been setting some clear boundaries for myself. That is hard to do. I am a perfectionist, a bit OCD, highly driven, and very dedicated. I hate leaving things undone. But there are so many hours in the day and if I am to be healthy, I need to do things like reading, writing, coloring, and hanging out with my husband. That means that expectations are not going to be met, things are not going to get done. I’m trying to learn to be okay with that.

As an aside, I find it interesting that there suddenly seems to be a great many blog posts and articles about teacher burnout and how to take care of yourself- more than usual. It seems I am not alone in this struggle! School is so much more stressful than it should be. Students and teachers have lost the joy of learning. That is sad. We need to reclaim that. We need to restructure our schools so that we are able to experience that joy.

The peace from my vacation stuck around all Monday. Then Monday night my Christmas Cold, which I thought I was on the far side of, struck back. I spent the next three days on the couch. I had left all my correcting, teacher guides, and plan book at school, thinking I would be back Tuesday. It was interesting writing sub plans and revising lesson plans from home without any materials! (A good argument for using a digital plan book. I should start doing that again!) I rested and read, and I worked on the long range school improvement plan I’ve been working on for a while. I had one thing for school to focus on, and I gained  much more understanding and perspective to issues and solutions because my focus wasn’t pulled in so many different directions.

We are coming up on mid-term exams and the change of semester, and I am feeling the pressure of deadlines that once were off in the distance. This weekend I spent a large percentage of both Saturday and Sunday working on school work. Saturday getting caught up on some (not all unfortunately) grading and today on some planning and trying to prepare for mid-terms. And the emails from parents wanting meetings were coming in.

Suddenly I realized I had been at my desk all afternoon. Yet after supper I returned to my desk and I’m still here. The stress and anxiety that comes with the weight of responsibilities of being an administrator, guidance counselor, and full time classroom teacher is very much present.

What a difference between last weekend and this. Last week I went into the work week rested. Tonight I am exhausted. I see before me all the ways I’m not meeting expectations and fulfilling my responsibilities. I’m wondering how I’m going to get correcting done, get planning done, finish the second semester scheduling done, conduct meetings with parents,  conduct meetings with teachers, conduct an interview, and be physically and emotionally available for my students.

Since my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer back in July, we have been surviving. There have been a few days that we feel that we are living, but most of the time we’re simply surviving. I feel that way about school. I’m just getting through it (and most of the time, not very well at that!). I want to teach well. I want to enjoy teaching. This is why I wanted to hang on to the peace that I had after vacation. It felt like I was going to be able to live, not just get by.

I’m not giving up on that desire. I’m press on toward finding a way to reclaim the joy of teaching and reduce stress and anxiety for both me and my students.

I think I’ll go color or read for a few minutes before going to bed!

This is Real Life

I was thinking today about being a connected educator. It’s always talked about as such a big, important thing, this being a connected educator. It means you’re in the know and at the forefront of educational trends. You are being influenced and influencing others professionally.

I consider myself a connected educator. I’m active on Facebook, not just sharing pictures of my cats and keeping in touch with family, but sharing blogs and articles about teaching, connecting with teachers and students, and following educational sites. I’m on Twitter (@nataleestotz) and Voxer. I blog (although not as consistently as I’d like).

But this week I was floored by the true meaning and value of being a connected educator.

Friday, July 3, my husband had a doctor’s appointment to follow up on the cough he’d been having. A cough we were all attributing to spring allergies. But he wasn’t feeling better, and our GP ordered chest x-rays. On his way home from having the x-ray, he got a call to return to the hospital for a CT; the x-ray showed a significant amount of fluid. They drained nearly 2 liters.

At Monday’s follow up to the ER visit, our GP referred us to a pulmonary specialist. Wednesday, July 8, while sitting with the pulmonologist, he got the final lab results from the fluid.

Stage IV.

That night we called our families and closest friends. We texted other friends, I emailed my colleagues. I notified my ELAFlip PLN and my RuralEdChat co-mods I wouldn’t be involved much for a while. I put a post on Facebook.  It wasn’t long before the love and support was pouring in from literally all over the world.

That’s what it means to be a connected educator. It’s not just about sharing great ideas for lesson plans or classroom management, about following big names in education or the publishing world. Even though many of these people I have only communicated with through Twitter, Voxer, or Facebook, we have built relationship. John and I are just overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of love and support we are getting.

Things are happening fast. He had surgery today. It went well. They drained more fluid, took tissue to biopsy, and sprayed surgical talc into his chest cavity to stop the pleura from continuing to weep. He is resting comfortably and is in good spirits.  Monday he is scheduled for a PET scan, and next week we get the results of these tests and hopefully find out what type of cancer, exactly where it is, and what our course of treatment will be.

We know it hasn’t fully sunk in; we haven’t fully grasped the depth or severity of the situation, but we have accepted it. This is what we have to face and the road we have to walk. We are walking it together, we are surrounded by a tremendous group of family and friends, both near and far, and most importantly, we are trusting in a loving God who is so much bigger than this ugly thing called cancer.

Just last week we heard YA author, Chris Crutcher speak at Boothbay Literacy retreat, and then read his autobiography, King of the Mild Frontier. He spoke about some of the horrible things he has seen as a child psychologist, things that often work their way into his books. He brought up the question that people so often ask, why do bad things happen to good people (or good things to bad people!). The conclusion he has come to is this: take out the adjectives and ask the question again. Why do things happen to people? They just do.

We’re not asking why. It’s happening. We’re asking how are we going to walk through this. We know the answer: head held high, side by side with each other, our loved ones, and our faith.