Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Burnout

Eckstein Middle School, Seattle, Washington. T...

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If you haven’t noticed based on my past posts, I love my job. Working with students with special needs has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done with my life. I love my kids and have a position at a school that I really feel that I’ve found a place for myself. I have never woken up in the morning and felt like I didn’t want to go to work (I’ve felt like I didn’t want to get out of bed, but that’s just because it’s 5:30am and my bed is warm and cozy).

However, as great and rewarding as my job is, it doesn’t mean that I’m not suffering from a bit of burnout.  It was a rough year at my school. Due to some redistricting and the move toward neighborhood schools, we had 100 more 6th graders than expected in September. It took until October to be able to hire more staff to lessen the load, so there were many classes with 36 or more kids at the beginning.

My position wasn’t even created until the beginning of September and I started September 20th. Starting three weeks into the school year is stressful and I felt like I spent the first three months of the year playing catch up. It’s not at all fun to meet all your students’ parents at Curriculum Night when you’ve only been at the school two weeks and the curriculum hadn’t been ordered yet.

Things got better until about March. I always thought high school was bad for spring fever, but middle school is worse. High schoolers just check out and stop doing anything. Middle schoolers just get wacky. My theory is that puberty is hitting them hard and since they are 12, they don’t know how to handle it. We also had a rash of kids possessing or under the influence of marijuana. These are 12 year olds!! It was crazy. Maybe I was a naive kid, but when I was 12, I wouldn’t have known where to get that if I’d wanted it.

Anyway, by the time June came around, we were all burned out. It was a tough year and we were ready to go away for awhile. I have one colleague who was off to Hawaii for a wedding, another going to India for 6 weeks, and I am heading to the NY/NJ/PA/NH area for nearly three weeks. I feel it’s a well deserved vacation after a long, weird school year.

On Monday, I crashed. I slept in, I barely got to the shower, I didn’t work out, and I sat on the couch watching movies all day. It was fantastic. Tuesday, I ran some errands, did a two mile run, and took the dogs for a walk. I finally started feeling normal. I’m heading east in less than a week, and I know that when I get back at the end of July, I’ll be just about ready to return to school.

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May: A month with no weekends

A quick thanks to Sam for taking the Wednesday post off my hands.  I was sick (so her germ-based post was especially apropos) and I had completely forgotten that it was Wednesday–I took a long weekend so Tuesday was my Monday.  But, she jumped in like a champ when my concentration wasn’t strong enough to tackle three or four measly paragraphs. 

So it’s May.  The month has come and (nearly) gone so quickly.  It hasn’t helped that I’ve been indoors for the last seven days because of the rain; I’m a couch zombie this month.  But, when the weekends come, that’s my time to relax, rejuvenate and retravel to New Hampshire. 

This month, my weekends have been full.  Usually I go up north once a month or so.  I visit my family or go to the lake house, always taking advantage of the opportunity to do laundry for free.  But this month, it’s been EVERY WEEKEND. 

Weekend the first: May 7 and 8
May 8 was Mother’s Day, so that’s a no-brainer.  Of course, I went to see my mom and spend time with her. It’s also my sister’s birthday.  We had lots of fun, exchanging gifts and brunching and hanging out. 

Weekend the second: May 14 to 16
My cousin has two charming babies.  An almost two-year-old and a five month old.  These are very happy, pleasant children. The kind of children that make me scared to have kids because I’m afraid my own kids will be hellweasels, and it will be hard to make people like my kids as much as I like these kids.  I took a day off from work on Monday to spend some extra time with the kids (and to hopefully get some things done for myself like grocery shopping and cleaning my apartment, but those things were not to be).  It was, in reality, an excellent time. 

Weekend the third:  May 21 and 22
This coming weekend, I’m in a bit of a pickle, because technically, I could stay home, but pragmatically I need to go back to NH.  My cousin is graduating from college this weekend.  I’m not going, but there was talk that my parents would go.  My sister, thinking that I would be in Colombia told her roommate that she could “probably stay” at my apartment with her father and her brother because I’d be out-of-town.  Then, Colombia didn’t happen.  But, because my parent’s were going to the graduation, I figured I would come up and dog-sit for the weekend, so my apartment would be free.  I agreed to vacate my house.  To be clear: I don’t have a problem with people staying in my place.  I know and trust my sister’s roommate, and it’s a pleasure to be able to do this for them.  On Tuesday my mom called and said, “looks like you can stay home because we’re not going to the graduation after all!”  So I said, “but there will be people staying here, so I have to come up.”  Again. forever.

Weekend the Fourth: Memorial Day Weekend
It has yet to be confirmed, but I think this will be a lake weekend.  I want to start planting my garden up there, my dad wants to get a jump on some house improvements and I think they’re bringing the boat out of storage.  The long weekend is a good one for trips up to the lake, and there might even be a bbq.  I’m totally in for this.  Unfortunately, that will make five weekends in a row that I’m not home (I forgot to mention the last weekend in April, which was also a lake house weekend). 

No, the drive isn’t onerous.  Yes, I love being around my family.  But I have to start being where I live more.  I need to make my apartment nice and cozy.  I need to buy groceries.  I need to vacuum and scrub the tub.  I need to re-organize my kitchen cabinets.  These things won’t happen on week nights.  They just won’t.  I need a weekend, at my house, on my own. 

Oh, I’ll also be going up to drop the dog off the first weekend in June.

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Balancing Act

My job doesn’t require that I give my whole life over, unless it does.

Confused?

When I’m home, I have a 9 to 5 job.  I don’t generally arrive to work early, and I don’t generally stay late.  Of course, there are times when I’m busy or otherwise engaged at work, and in those cases, I will happily stay to complete my work or go in early to get something done.  But, I try not to make a habit of it.

I take all of my vacation days and when I’m on vacation, I am emphatically not at work. I don’t check in or check email.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m not an employee when I’m on vacation.  Ok, there were a few times, something was going on and I checked in online, called the office, and tried to sort something out.  But again, I don’t make a habit of it.

Of course, when I’m traveling abroad, I’m working 24 hours a day.

I owe my organization and my colleagues (both at home and abroad) diligent and thorough work.  I take every opportunity to take every meeting (I visited a jail last year to meet with inmates), to speak to as many people as possible, attend as many events as possible.  I stay up late or get up early for conference calls.  I work over breakfast, over lunch and during dinner.

That’s not to say that I’m logged in, communicating with my bosses or even necessarily thinking about my job every minute of every day. But I am representing my organization, my colleagues, my field and my country every second.  And I do keep that in mind with everything I do.  When I talk to taxi drivers, order food, check into my hotel room, meet with colleagues, or get a drink at a bar at the end of the day, I am aware that what I do, what I say, and how I act sends a message to everyone around me.  It can be exhausting, but I am a guest in someone else’s country, and I owe them my thoughtfulness, positive attitude and no small amount of grace.  I try all the food put in front of me (ate turtle last year in Cambodia), I remember my pleases and thank yous (all down to mom and dad), and I start every interaction with a smile (especially helpful at customs and passport checks).

So many people who work in my field tend to forget this: As a visitor in another country, you’re not just working when you’re working.

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Hero’s Welcome

I have a lot of travel stories to mine from the past two years.  Work keeps me moving and I’ve seen and done quite a lot.  I watched the final game of the 2008 Euro Cup (Spain v. Germany) from Plaza Colón in Madrid with thousands of screaming Madrileños, I went on a safari in Nairobi, I ate turtle in Cambodia and went to the beach in India.  But, one story sticks out in my mind from my trip this year.

I spent February, March, and part of April in Southeast Asia.  In 61 days I

tuk-tuks

 went to 6 countries, flew on 16 flights, stayed in 14 hotels, and endured 1 cold and 2 stomach bugs. I rode in tuk-tuks and taxicabs.  And, I met hundreds of amazing people. 

The third of my 8 weeks was spent in on the Southeast coast of India, in a city called Chennai.  Chennai is an enormous place, sprawled over a huge area of land, it has millions of inhabitants, but because it’s built on sand, there aren’t any skyscrapers, so it doesn’t quite fit with the Western paradigm of an urban landscape. 

On my first day in Chennai, I met with my hosts in the morning after breakfast (Breakfast is the only meal that I prefer Westernized or Americanized when I travel. My stomach isn’t quite ready for spicy or unfamiliar foods first thing in the morning).  We went to their offices, then headed off to visit a village where a colleague of theirs was starting a project. 

The village was a slum area, and my hosts weren’t sure how to get where we were going. They arranged for some of the villagers to meet us a short distance from the village and we followed their car back to meet the rest of the village.

I was completely unprepared for the greeting I received from the villagers. 

We pulled up, and we were greeted by running and smiling children and a photographer.  I shook hands with everyone, someone put a wreath of flowers around my neck, and someone else draped a shawl over my shoulders as the tide of people swept me down the street to a small building. 

A woman came out to greet me carrying a brass tray with a small flame atop it and red oils swirling around the outside.  She chanted in Tamil over the tray, placed it carefully on the ground and anointed my forehead with the oil.  Then they led me inside.  The photographer snapped photos as children climbed into my lap and community leaders gathered in the room.  Someone passed a tray of food and another of cold drinks.

I was flabbergasted.  My hosts had told me that the village was expecting a journalist (which was the easiest way of translating that I was there to write an article about their work, but that I wasn’t there to deliver money or goods. They wanted to be very careful about managing people’s expectations).  I ate and drank and listened to my hosts’ translation of the unfolding events.  I was being welcomed, being honored, being thanked for my visit. 

I scribbled notes, but the whole experience is a blur in my mind.  All I remember is the warmth of the people, their kindness and their extreme generosity even in the midst their poverty. 

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