A Note to My Fellow Educators: Thank You (p.s. It’s Okay to be Exhausted)

The 2020-2021 academic year is drawing to a close for many of us. Thought you may not have felt like it at times, you have done an incredible job this past school year.

In my final announcement to my students, I thanked them for showing up. I told them that I hoped that, if nothing else, this school year helped them see how resilient they truly are. I share these words because the same goes for all the educators out there. Thank you for the sacrifices you made. Thank you for showing up.

As I wrote back in September:

You are good enough. You are awesome.

During this long, strange academic year we have had to adapt to a new world.  Many of us have learned to grow our skills in new vectors while shrinking the scope of our pre-pandemic plans. Throughout this journey through anxious times, we have dealt with uncertainty and tragedy.

As educators, we have a talent for self-laceration. Perhaps it is the fact that academic work often involves less oversight that we find ourselves playing the dual roles of motivator and motivated. As such, we may have struggled this year with thoughts like: “I should have done more of (fill in the blank),” or “my productivity this year has been a fraction of what it was last year.” Those kinds of thoughts just create more stress when pandemic-related obligations or restrictions get in the way of getting things done. Let those thoughts go.

My summer plans are, in many respects, probably not much different from yours. That is, I plan to play a lot of catch up. But, in doing so, I’m going to challenge myself to be mindful of the (often self-imposed) pressure of finishing all that went unfinished, or in many cases, unstarted, this past academic year. Can we put that pressure aside, at least for a little while, and work on our to do list while practicing self care?

Lately, I’ve been reminding myself a lot of something someone said to me once: “Stop trying to be perfect and start being human.”

You deserve a break. You deserve rest. It has been a hard year. And that is okay. It is okay to be exhausted. It is okay to be human. You do not need anyone’s permission.

Kermit, I love you, but I’m not sure I agree with the ‘that’s none of my business’ sentiment. In a way, I think it is all of our business to ensure we are supporting each other as whole people.

It is important to decompress. It is important to take time for yourself and for your loved ones. What you have been able to get done during a global pandemic is and was enough. Full stop.

So I plan to spend a lot of time this summer doing simple things to focus on the whole of me. This pandemic has taught me, for example, that I like to make homemade almond milk and oat milk (tweet at me for the recipes. Both are super simple to make). This summer, I plan to learn how to make vegan homemade ice cream (just bought an ice cream maker!!!), bond with my child in nature, and sit on my deck and listen to the morning birds. This pandemic has taught me the value of many things I was too in a rush to do or to notice.

But wait… who am I to tell you that you deserve a break? Let’s be real. I’m a person with a section on his blog titled “Be more Productive.” The irony of me in 2021 writing this blog post is not lost on me. Like many of you, I’ve developed into a compulsive worker.

One school of thought is that it is risky to take time to yourself in an ever-changing world. I think that the pandemic has taught us that we need to push back against that mantra and realize that we risk losing who we truly are if we do not carve out a space for the whole self. During this pandemic, many academics have shared stories of or concerns about burnout in academia. A candle that has burned out cannot light a path for others. The same is true for academics. With that in mind, it is imperative that we do take time for ourselves.  If taking time for yourself feels selfish, then do it for me. Allow me to be the selfish one here and say that I want the best version of you out there impacting lives, advancing knowledge, changing the course of humanity.

At the start of fall 2020 academic year as we entered the uncertainty of the COVID classroom era, I wrote  “We are in a time of revaluation. We are in a time where our compassion and humanity are our greatest assets.”

I hope we do not lose sight of our compassion and humanity as we move forward. This summer, I hope to keep my eye on compassion and humanity in my own life and in the lives of others.  I hope you will remain cognizant of your own humanity and approach yourself with compassion as you slide into summer in 2021.

Disruption engenders change. In what direction do you want to change moving forward?

From one educator to another, I sincerely thank you for everything you have done and continue to do.

Tweet at me your plans to take some ‘me time’ this summer. This is a question I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It is important that we have more conversations about self-care, burnout, and the role they play in fulfilling, meaningful work in academia. Let’s talk.

Have a wonderful summer! I look forward to connecting in the fall!

Be well!

Matt

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