Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Letter to Dr. Phil

Dear Dr. Phil,



Recently as I flipped channels looking for something to watch briefly on tv, I came across a show on which you were answering a question from a caller. This caller was a teacher in an inner city district who came home thoroughly exhausted each day with absolutely no energy to pursue the things she wanted in life. I remember reading and/or listening to her comment/question thinking to myself that this was indeed an example of divine intervention. This woman was in the same boat as I was and she was posing her question to Dr. Phil, someone whom I have admired from the beginning. God was going to speak to me through Dr. Phil!



As a teacher who pours her heart and soul into her students only to feel like a complete failure at the end of most days, I couldn't wait to see what fabulous advice you had to offer her. With baited breath I waited until you said, "Decompartmentalize your job. Leave your work at work." Now, these are not your exact words because I don't remember the exact words and can't seem to find them online yet. But basically you were telling her to leave her work at work. Good advice, except I don't quite know how you are supposed to do that.



I am an anomaly in the teaching profession because I do not literally bring my work home. I do not have time or energy to bring home papers to grade or textbooks to make lesson plans. In addition to teaching fourth grade, I also open our on-site daycare each morning by 7am and handle all of the finances for it. The daycare is open until 8:30am and my regular classes start at 9:00am. When daycare is done and the cafeteria opens for breakfast, I usually grab a breakfast tray, my first food of the day since I woke up four hours earlier and walk the kids who are NOT eating breakfast down by the office where we stand for about five minutes waiting for the teachers who have playground duty to get out there and supervise. Once the kids are gone, I do my best to make it to my classroom without getting stopped by someone so I can sit and eat my breakfast. Unfortunately by the time I get to my classroom, my breakfast is cold and I have so much to do to get ready for the day that I have to inhale my food as I get the day's work up on the whiteboard, prepare any last minute details for the day, and try to squeeze in a bathroom break before the kids show up. This is really hard on the digestive system.

The rest of my day is spent going at 100mph trying desperately to teach students who could care less about receiving an education and only get really attentive if some reward is attached. I spend my day trying to redirect students, get them to focus, reteach them second and third grade material that they should have mastered by now, go over classroom procedures every single day to no avail, deal with discipline problems, testing, testing, and more testing, bandage boo-boos, feel foreheads about four times a day because kids come up and say, "I don't feel good". I deal with needy kids who feel compelled to visit me at least 20 times a day for virtually no reason. There are constant interruptions to the day by outside factors and constant interruptions to the day by inside factors - the students themselves.

My lunch is so rushed that I rarely get to sit down and simply enjoy a hot meal. Most days I have students coming in at recess to finish work that they should have completed in class the day before if they had been focusing on their academics rather than throwing erasers across the room or carving their initials into their desks.

Now, I think I'm a good teacher. I have had many, many parents tell me how upset they were when they found out I had been moved to fourth grade from fifth grade last year. They and their children had been looking forward to having me as a fifth grade teacher for years. On the other hand, I had other parents who after finding out I was going to teach fourth grade wanted to know how to GET me as a fourth grade teacher. So, I must be doing something right. Other teachers compliment me on my classroom management skills. Hmmm, I don't know.



Anyway, at the end of each day of this, I get to go in front of my school with a little red stop sign and try to get students safely across the street without pissing off a parent who couldn't possibly care less about following the rules in order to ensure the safety of not only their children but the children of others. I was recently cussed out and threatened by one of these parents because I told her she couldn't stop in the street and back up traffic. Yesterday another parent was thoroughly bitched out and cussed out by another parent who was blocking traffic because she didn't want to move.



I finally return to my classroom after having no down time during the day except for maybe 20 minutes of my 30 minute planning period. After taking the students to their special class and squeezing in yet another bathroom break and then time picking them up, I only have about 20 minutes. And honestly, half the time all I want to do is stop for a few minutes and sit in a dark, quiet classroom and try to NOT have a nervous breakdown. Returning from my after school duty leaves me with about 10 minutes before the "end of the day". Many, many teachers stay far beyond our 4:00pm contracted end of the day. But since I showed up anywhere between 6:30am and 7:00am, by the time 4:00pm rolls around and I haven't stopped all day, I am thoroughly depleted.

Over the last few years of this ever increasing stress not only in my career, but also in my personal life, I have gained a lot of weight. I hate it, I want it gone. I even really like to exercise and work out. But by the time I walk out that door at the end of the day, there is no "leaving your work at work." My body and mind are so completely and totally exhausted that I can think of nothing except crawling into bed and sleeping. As I write this it is 8:09pm. My brain is just now starting to decompress from the day. I left school four hours ago. This is a nightly process. I have tried meditation, exercise, wine, hot tea, relaxing music. Massage does wonders, but unfortunately, it is not a luxury I can afford except on rare occasions.

I am too tired at the end of the day to pursue my passions - writing, art, and photography. And, I have two teenage children at home. My son is gone a great deal of the time with school, wrestling, and work. But my fifteen year old daughter sees me coming in each afternoon exhausted and unhappy. Despite my attempts to cheer up before I get home, the overwhelming exhaustion and despair I feel consumes me. The one positive thing is that I encourage her to pursue her passion in life, get a good education, and get a good job that she loves.

I know that these feelings of despair and exhaustion are not just being felt by me. Many, if not most, of the teachers in my school are feeling the same way. But, it's not just my school or just my district. Teachers all over the state I have talked to feel the same way. I would imagine teachers across the country feel this way.

So, Dr. Phil, we can't simply decompartmentalize our lives and leave our work at work. I would be very interested in any other ideas you have for dealing with this. Currently, I am single and so this is my only income. I have no savings because of medical bills from having cancer which led to bankruptcy and foreclosure. An inheritance I had was depleted in order to deal with an ex-husband bent on destroying me and taking away my children. My life story reads like a bad soap-opera but it's all true unfortunately.

I feel trapped and helpless and would love some advice from you Dr. Phil, some advice that can actually be taken.

Sincerely,

Kelli Thomas

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