Your broken down and tired

I was driving to the gym on my way to my favorite exercise class. The first 15 minutes are intense cardio, the next 15 minutes focusing on strength, and the last 15 minutes of calm down yoga. This combo always makes me feel good. Work was done, I was riding in the car with my best guy feeling so excited for this weekly self care practice.

Through the car speakers Rise Up by Andra Day started to play and with those first lyrics the tears suddenly and silently fell.

You’re broken down and tired

Of living life on a merry go round

And you can’t find the fighter

But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out

My husband, use to this spontaneous crying didn’t even speak. He just squeezed my hand and kept driving. At this point he doesn’t even need to ask, he just knows. School life is exhausting for kids, parents, teachers and admin. I am broken down and tired, it feels like I’m on the merry go round. I fear me and the brave colleagues I work with are losing our inner fighter.

I wish spontaneous crying wasn’t so common but the truth is I’m seeing this so much in educators and students. Sudden emotions boil over tipped from what should be a small problem. Yet many of us are losing resolve and that small problem becomes the boiling point. Many educators like me are practicing self care and yet it’s not enough to handle the intensity of the daily school needs.

The social emotional and learning gaps caused by the pandemic feel like emergencies for our students. On top of that the work force shortages mean substitutes, bus drivers, and cleaning crews are hard to find. Everyone is literally doing everything they can possibly do and still it feels like not enough.

So many leaders are telling teachers to practice self care and to be quite honest if feels offensive at this point. Self care is not cutting it if we continue to keep this pace. So while I believe in self care, today my message is different.

Instead I wish us all to slow down.

Please, slow down.

Give yourself daily permission to slow down.

But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet

Stop judging yourself by the old standards of teaching before the pandemic. When your blood pressure shoots up and it’s hard to breath because the students are intellectually or emotionally struggling to keep pace with your lesson, just stop. Take a deep breath, regroup, and respond with a slower pace. It will not serve you or your students well to keep plowing through the curriculum.

That lesson that use to take one day might require 3 days. There was a time when students could handle 3 step directions, but lately that turns to chaos. Slow down. Even if it takes away from instruction time, give 1 step directions and wait until the students get it right. Once that’s mastered, add the next direction, and so on. Break it into smaller parts. Respond to where they are. We have the energy to urge them along toward the finish line, but dragging them along will only hurt them and wear you out! Just slow down.

Reading and writing stamina has been especially hard to build back this year. It requires independence and self regulation that many of our students don’t have much of…YET. 2nd graders especially are in a position where their formative years in developing skills for 2nd grade independence were altered by online learning, quarantines, and home schooling. Of course they are struggling to keep up! The struggle is crushing all of us, but what if we slow down?

Your students keeping asking for the restroom, nurse, or a movement break. We know they are avoiding learning at all cost. I here you! It’s happening everywhere. Scaffold them back into learning. Ask them to try 1 hard problem before a break. Ask them to read 5 minutes before they leave for 1 minute. Pour on that love and support, tell them you believe they can do hard things, and see if 10 breaks a day eventually falls down to 3.

When your student spontaneously cries or even screams and starts to break things, slow down. You know how they feel because you’ve wanted to do the same. Bring some peace back into that moment. Accept that less learning will get done that day. Decide if that students needs to separate and take a break so you can continue teaching or if you should stop teaching and walk them through those emotions. Just slow down.

And move mountains

Celebrate and reward every success so more of those moments can continue. Let’s build these kiddos back up emotionally so we can then start meetings these gaps in learning.

Use small groups like they are your lifeline. I love Guided Reading small groups because they will foster growth for those students with wide reading gaps, but I think also think small groups can solve other needs. Use your small group time to also teach habits. Take your current worries and frustrations and turn them into small group lessons. What if instead of constantly correcting students, we practiced replacement behaviors in a small group lesson? Slow down.

In 2nd and 3rd grade right now there is a whole population of kids who have no idea how to choose books. They are a collection of pretend readers who choose Dog Man for the pictures and Harry Potter for the prestige. Yet their reading range is 4 grade levels below these texts. Slow them down. Don’t rush into a guided reading group right away. Teach them to choose the right books for themselves so when they aren’t reading in your groups, their reading is productive, fosters growth, and especially a love of reading. Slow down.

If students can’t do something, teach them. If they can’t walk in the hall, teach them. If they won’t raise their hand, teach them. If their handwriting is illegible, teach them. The rest can wait. Be responsive and slow down. With patience you will have students ready to access the most important curriculum, and in this climate it’s okay to cut the rest.

While I’d like to believe school will feel better soon, the reality is this is probably going to be a struggle for a while. If we don’t help bridge these gaps then who will? This is a long haul need and we won’t make it if we try to keep up with the old expectations. I’ll say it again. Stop judging yourself from the old expectations of teaching. Let yourself respond to who the kids are now. Just slow down.

All we need is hope, and for that we have each other. And we’ll rise.

I’m thinking of the lyrics from Rise Up again. Those lyrics spoke to me as a promise one person makes to another to share her strength and walk through the struggle in tandem. I hope as an Instructional Coach in my building I can provide that support and strength. I hope teachers and colleagues continue to be kind and hold each other up. I hope parents give us understanding, and administrators lessen the load when they can. If we can do that maybe we will rise in spite of the ache. If we can slow down and support each other, maybe we’ll move mountains for each other and for these kids. Let’s help each other slow down and rise up.

When the silence isn’t quiet
And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet
And move mountains
Bring it to its feet
And move mountains

And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again

For you
For you
For you
For you

All we need, all we need is hope
And for that we have each other
And for that we have each other

And we will rise
We will rise
We’ll rise, oh, oh
We’ll rise

To read more about helping our children with connection, self regulation, and stamina for learning, read Popsicles and Play: The transition back to in person learning.

I will keep posting about teaching life and of course books and healthy food on social media. Follow me on Instagram @GreenGurneys or like our Green Gurneys Facebook page for more education thoughts and good book recommendations.

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