April 6, 2009

Are You Going Through A Rough Spot?

There has been recent activity in the edublosophere on the subject of teaching with depression. I'd like to throw in my own two cents based on personal experience. I'll start with a question: what would happen if these air traffic controllers thought about their personal problems at their jobs?

Probably something like this:

What happens to our professional lives when there is overwhelming stress in our personal lives? This issue is important for all professionals, but I'd say it's especially important for teachers. Teachers can not bring their students down with them. When we're physically in the classroom, we need to be 100% mentally in the classroom. I'm not an advocate of putting a brick wall between your personal and professional lives; in fact, I believe that the two are intimately related. However, we have a professional duty, maybe even a fiduciary duty, to our students. They deserve the best education they can get regardless of what's happening in the teachers' personal life.

I was going through a pretty stressful episode about this time last year, and this is what I wrote then:

The reason I got into teaching is for the students and that has never changed, even through all of this. My focus as a teacher is 100% on them. I am completely dedicated to providing a high quality education to them. That's always been my reason for entering this field and it's now my reason for staying. I really do get positive energy from this job. I come into work in the morning, start my first class, and think about how fortunate I am to be doing something like this. Every day I still think about it. The rewards from this job are immeasurable. Students first. That's my plan for the next three months.

I ended up following my own advice, and what happened was surprising. First, my teaching improved dramatically – my teaching during this time was even better than it was at the beginning of the year. Secondly, I became quite happy. I began living in the present, focusing on others, and having gratitude. It works. Who knew?

Here's what I would say to a teacher who is going through a rough spot:

  • It's not about you. Focus on the students.

  • Live in the here and now (especially when you're in the classroom!)

  • Maybe you're not responsible for sorting out air traffic, but what you do in the classroom is still more important than your own petty problems.

  • Your job is awesome. Live with gratitude.


Tom.... said...

TruE, the students should be your first priority. That is the main reason most of us got into this game in the first place. However, and there is always a "however", true depression or high levels of anxiety that seem to be growing in our profession cannot be overturned merely by turning one's focus back to the kids.
Those who have had a bout with depressive illness of anxiety can do themselves a favor by focusing instead on personally getting well again. This will have the side effect of improving one's teaching life.
I admire your fervor, at any rate, and am glad that the former method works for you, and possibly others as well. In my case, a few years ago, I had to pull back a bit before I could jump back into the game. Thanks for the posting about this very real and serious issue.
Tom Anselm, teacher and author

Joel said...

I agree. True clinical depression is a real medical condition and can not be beaten so easily. I was speaking more about the situational type of depression.