As a teacher, I used to hesitate to say no when asked to do things. I worried that I would be labeled as someone who is not a team player. The unfortunate reality is that a lot of the time I became the team, because “I was good at ____”. Saying I was good at something, made me feel validated, but it’s also how many of us burnout. I was overwhelmed and my anxiety was through the roof, and it went on like this for a couple of years. I still gave my students my all, but my family had a more exhausted, emotionally drained version of their mom and wife.
When it became too much, I did what no one likes to admit, I asked for help, real professional help. That’s right, I saw a therapist- who stated the obvious, “you’re doing too much,” but unlike advice that I would have customarily blown off, since I was paying for his service, I listened to him. And then took his advice and put it to use.
I started saying no to projects that didn’t make me happy. And you know what? It was okay, no one retaliated, and someone else who was glad to do it did it. So contrary to what we believe, things can get done without us. Therapy taught me to seek balance in all aspects of my life.
I also learned the importance of creating my core values, a set of standards to guide me personally and professionally, something that I now realize was missing. My core values, a few which I am sharing, encouraged me to narrow down my motivations and goals for how I wanted to lead my life.
Mrs. Tolman’s Core Values:
1. Engage fully or, as I prefer to say it- be where your feet are. If you are at school, you focus on school; if you are on the field, your feet are there. If I’m at school, I am a teacher and a colleague. At home, I am a mom, wife, and doctoral student. This balance is essential for me because my family deserves the same energy level that I give my students.
2. We are servant leaders. I grew up without so many basic things- electricity, sometimes food, at one point without a bed. This is why in my heart, I find it important to serve. I believe to whom much is given, much is expected. My students are learning about servant leadership as well- we make sandwiches for the homeless, donate clothing and food, and serve every month. And I like to remind them, this is done with the most valuable resource-time.
3. We choose joy. We practice gratitude daily during the first five minutes of class. It helps students shift their mindset and find small things that we are grateful for. This could be- my socks match, my mom made my favorite dinner, whatever it is that made a difference in their day. This reflection is how we avoid spiraling out, the small gesture resonates and makes a difference. My favorite part is that students are now actively seeking things to write in their journals.
I don’t have all the answers, but the one thing I am sure of is that I didn’t want to lose my sense of self because I am a teacher. I can say no. I can find joy. Make no mistake though, I did the work. I did the work that we often hesitate to do because it seems selfish or frowned upon. Making time for myself was not selfish. In making time, I have created balance without sacrificing my mental health and I am a better teacher, mom and wife for it.