Would you rather get a root canal or go back to school to teach a full day after Christmas break?
Would you rather hear the dentist drilling to your core or the whining of your students when they realize they have to do school work again?
Would you rather smell the onion-y odor of middle school youth in the halls, or the medicinal minty scents of the dentist's tools?
These were actual questions I asked myself on New Year's Eve Day as I sat in the dentist's chair hearing his diagnosis: I needed a root canal.
The big question was: would you rather teach all day with tooth pain that makes you want to cry or scream, or get the root canal ASAP? I opted for the root canal.
In a strange way, I was relieved. I had none of the usual anxiety about going back to school after the break. I was almost happy to be facing the dentist first thing in the morning rather than my students.
It made me think. What was happening that I would feel relief to get a root canal on January 2? I realized that even though we had just had a good 10 days of vacation, it wasn't quite enough. In my case, I had appointments, errands, food shopping, and cleaning to do - so much so that I rarely had down time. Though I don't like the terms "me time" and "self-care", I understand that teachers really need both. And over my break, I didn't reserve enough time for either.
Our job is hard. Maybe, like a fellow teacher with whom I was talking the other day, one of the hardest. We do our job without enough time to collaborate and prepare. We deal with the neediest people, sometimes at their most vulnerable, day in and day out without enough training to do so. Social problems and mental health issues are growing, and work-creep continues. Budget cuts leave us without arts, languages, dance, counselors. It is all overwhelming and exhausting.
That is why today, while having my root canal and listening to a podcast, I actually felt relaxed. It shouldn't have to take a 2 hour dental procedure for this to happen, though.
I guess this is all to say this: teachers, take care of yourselves. We often put everyone before us, our families and our students. While it's hard to not do this, at the same time we need to be more deliberate about doing things that relax us or make us happy. Today at the gym, I was doing laps in the pool when in the lane next to me I recognized a long time guidance counselor from my school (now retired), mentor, community pillar, and family friend. When I asked him how he was, he said "Hanging in there. If I can do one thing a day that makes me happy, it's all good." Words to take to heart.