Teaching is both mental and physical, and sometimes it can be overwhelmingly too much for a person to handle. Even when things get tough, there’s usually something a kid says or does that seals the reason why a teacher will return the next day.
It took many years, but at one point, I reached the wall. It wasn’t the “do more with less” system I worked in. It wasn’t the take-home work and extra hours. It wasn’t even the societal pressure and false narrative that surrounds the profession. None of that was enough to stop doing what I loved—working with kids and impacting their lives.
What drove me away sounds petty and simplistic, but it’s true. It was the treatment by my colleagues and others within the educational atmosphere that made me hang up my white board marker.
I couldn’t control the way others acted, but I could control the way I responded. At first, I adopted the “kill ’em with kindness” approach. When that failed, the negative environment took a toll on me. I needed to move myself somewhere I could still chase my passion for education, but not at the expense of my daily mental health. I needed to become part of the solution before I sunk into the pits of the problem. I knew I wasn’t the only person who felt this way, and it was time to do what I could to make things better. Changing culture isn’t easy, but I felt it was possible.
At CrossFit, No One Expects Me to Be Superhuman. Just Human.
My daily mental health is the reason I woke up one day after years of no exercise, and joined a CrossFit gym. Overnight I went from hanging out in my favorite chair for hours every evening, to going to CrossFit four times a week. Changing my habits wasn’t easy, but it was possible.
As a new CrossFitter, I am slow. I wear out quickly. I hurt and ache in places I never knew I could. But I am in control. I choose to get up and go. I choose to inflict this pain. I can stop whenever I want or add an extra day whenever I want. No matter how many reps I do or don’t do; no matter how slow I run; no matter how many breaks I take to catch my breath, no one gossips. No one criticizes. No one sends me a passive aggressive email after I get home from the gym to tell me how to work out better next time.
Teachers have so much and so little control all at the same time. So much in education is decided for them and without them. We are just handed packaged expectations.
“Here, go do 1,000 pull-ups. Here, go run 10 miles. Here, carry this 350 weight over your head while hopping on one foot, and blindfolded.” Sounds ridiculous, right? No more ridiculous, than, “Here, I know your license is in English, but we need you to teach French. Here, these 240 essays need to be graded by tomorrow. Here, we need all these kids reading by Friday. Here, we need you to do this without pay.” You get it.
I love teaching, and I miss it. I still do it, just not every day. When I knew I had support, I was willing to weather the expectations, and impossible asks. When that support was no longer there, it made it harder and harder to endure.
At CrossFit, I keep coming back to the gym for more, because no matter what happens, the environment is nurturing, positive and welcoming. No matter the pain, no matter the exhaustion, I want to come back. Also, no one expects me to be superhuman. Just human. I like that.
What If We Made Our School Environments More Human?
It took me about four years to finally convince myself that I needed a career change. I left the classroom to advocate for and to empower others. I am currently talking to anyone who will listen about the importance of social-emotional learning and practice for not only children, but adults.
If I do one thing on this new path of mine, I want to help reshape the atmosphere in and around education. It’s time for monumental change. I am not going to curl up and let broken systems win. I may have left the classroom, but maybe I’ll return one day. If I had to leave to make myself healthier and to make teaching and learning more healthy for everyone else, it will be worth it.
What if we could start to infuse more love, more support, more human compassion for those in our educational ecosystem into our schools? What if? I, at least, can say that it would make the daily “heavy lifting” much more tolerable. It wouldn’t erase the bad days or the stressful days, or the workload, but the culture of support, and truly wanting what is best for every person, no matter where they are on their journey, might keep more educators coming back for more, instead of throwing in the towel on what could be the most rewarding experience of their lives.
There’s something about the right environment that makes me look at an eight-foot wall and think, “I could climb that.” Not today, but maybe someday. When presented with the right environment, I am ready to be the leader, the teacher, the person I want to be.