We experience some serious stuff as special education teachers. How many people can say thy have dealt with the things we deal with? We may even have kids dealing with so much more than their special needs: like poverty or living in foster care. It’s unfathomable how some of our neediest students have so much more going on than just disabilities, and we are witness to that.
As much as we might be exposed to when working in a field like this, most of us can manage dealing with these things. We may absorb some of this, sure. However, most of us are blessed to come home to our own families, a safe and comfortable place to call home, and the security of knowing we’ll be able to afford essentials.
But just when you think things are going great, life outside of work can throw you a curve ball. Life happens to us too. Take it from me: this whole summer, all I could think about was new classroom work tasks, and how I would coordinate my classroom with my new Astrobrights paper. A week before the start of school, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I’m so thankful to say we’re at the end of her treatment and she will be back to her usual self in a few months. However, since the diagnosis, my mindset has shifted extremely. School years previously, I didn’t bat an eye at spending money on printer ink or snacks for the classroom. Now I limit my spending “just in case”. Last year I didn’t think twice about taking a day to get personal business finished. Now I ration my personal days carefully to make sure I’m available to take my mom to doctor’s appointments.
I’m not going to lie, it can be overwhelming to deal with things like family illness or divorce when working with some of the neediest of needy kids. However, over the past few months, I have learned some tips and tricks that help me cope.
Devote yourself to being present
Going in to this school year, this was the one goal I had for myself. I never dealt with anything as close to this and I had no idea how I would handle it. I knew, however, that my students deserved all of me when I was at work. What’s more, I knew my mom would be devistated if she thought I was not giving my students what they deserve because I was so worried about her. Whatever is going on outside of work, not bringing your whole effort during school hours will not change it. Getting myself in to this type of mindset also helps because work can serve as a great distraction. Being productive makes difficult times a little manageable. There are days I wake up and there is nothing less I want to do than get up and spend the day at school. However, once I am there, I am so happy to be engaging with my students and staff and I am seriously thankful I did get my butt there. Life will still move forward even in times of personal difficulty.
Ask for help
Hopefully you all are as blessed as I am to work with exceptional staff. One of the things that has lifted me up this year has been my paras. On the first day of orientation, I let them know off the bat what was going on. Don’t be afraid to make your classroom staff aware of what is going on. I don’t mean to divulge in uncomfortable details or let conversation take over your classroom, but let them know. Prepare them in advance in case you may have to take a day unexpectedly. My paras know exactly what to do on the days I have had to be out to be with my mom. I also made the point to my staff that seeing them work hard is going to make me want to give my best. If they see I am having a tough time, they know to spring in to action in order to help us all do what needs to be done.
Get your ducks in a row
If you are in a situation like mine, you may find yourself in a position where you need to take more time off than you normally would like. If there is that potential, make sure you you are well prepared. See what the rules are about taking several days. Discuss with your union rep about the process of FMLA. Even if it’s hopeful you won’t be in the type of situation, it’s still a good idea to get this stuff sorted out before it’s an issue. You should also be prepared with lessons and sub plans in the event you have to be out.
It’s totally okay to not have money or time to spare
Time and money are valuable. If you are going through a rough patch, you may be limited with both. You are under no obligation that you MUST spend either your time or your money outside of work for work. If you need money or time to make whatever you’re going through manageable, take care of yourself and your family first. Your classroom will still run if you don’t spend all Sunday planning. Your kids can have great learning experiences just because you didn’t shell out money for classroom materials.
Make sure your needs are being met
I know us special ed teachers are notoriously good at throwing the whole “put yourself first” thing to the wind. During this time, though, you better take that advice. You may be stretched thin, so it’s especially important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself: Get enough sleep, eat your veggies, and devote some time to making sure you can handle it all. If you’re stretched thin, you’re even more apt to end up sick, so it is imperative to keep yourself healthy so you can keep taking care of it all.
If you’re going through a tough time, please know I am routing for you. It’s not easy to have such an emotionally taxing job and be going through a tough time, but your kids, their parents, and I are thankful for you pushing through it!