Saturday, October 9, 2010

And we wonder why folks complain about us....

TEACHER magazine (which seemingly has case issues), part of the network, carries a column written by teachers educators (excuse me) who belong to the Teacher Leaders Network, which, according to their logo, is a "center for teaching quality."

I got an email this week leading to "Teaching Secrets: Managing October Exhaustion."

I wasn't aware that I'm supposed to be exhausted yet, coming off a couple of very restful months, though raking up clams did make my muscles ache, and come to think of it, picking tomatoes in August may have tapped my reserve. Hey, maybe I am exhausted and don't know it.

So what's at the top of the list for exhausted educators who are collapsing under the strain of working, say, a month or two?

(T)ake a “personal day,” or two, and enjoy it. The kids will survive.
Elena "The exhaustion that typically hits teachers in
October assaulted me in mid-September this year" Aguilar

The kids will survive.

And we call ourselves professionals.

The logo was lifted from Teacher Magazine.


Luann @Stardiverr said...

Obviously, not written by a teacher. Preparing something quality for a sub is far more taxing than going to school. I won't be out unless its life or death, or unless the PTB make me go somewhere. Most of my colleagues hold that same MO.

John Spencer said...

Doctors, take a few unexpected days off. Go to the Bahamas. Your patients will survive.

Firemen, take a few more days off. Yes, you work a four day week, but the job is stressful. Fires can wait.

Jenny said...

At the risk of being blasted, I will admit to some exhaustion just a month into the school year. I have no intention of taking a personal day, but I am tired.

I'm with my students nearly six hours everyday. That time is fairly energy intensive (as I'm sure it is for all teachers) and leaves little time for the necessary review of assessment and consequent planning. Add to that working with other teachers, various meetings, and communicating with parents and my time is packed and I'm left exhausted.

doyle said...

Dear Luann,


Dear John,

To be fair, I've known a few docs who took a few "mental health" days. I just wouldn't broadcast this as a matter of good policy.

Dear Jenny,

Oh, I'm tired, too--many of us are at this point.

I have no problem sharing this with other professionals, as I traded 5:00 AM stories with other docs as we started our rounds in the nursery, the beginning of a long day that often "ended" at 6 or 7 PM, with no promise that our time in the hospital was truly done for the day.

To openly model taking personal days for "exhaustion," though, kills our professional persona.

We take a day off a week, we rest, we recuperate, and we jump back in. It's what professionals do.

Frank Noschese said...

If I recall the article correctly, the author also advocated for taking a day off in order to do school work and to go into school on the weekend to reorganize the classroom. While I have never taken a "mental health" day (for the same reasons as Luann), I admit to having taken a day off once or twice to catch up on grading. And I know other teachers who have done the same.

Does anyone know of other jobs where people take the day off in order to do work for their job? (Sounds crazy, right?)

christine said...

I taske mental health days, and everyone I KNOW takes a day off their job once in a while to do their job. I just have different labels.

I had a furlough day friday, thanks to or Governator... but not tomorrow off, because they took "away" Columbus Day as a holiday. YOU makes sense out of it other than for one I got paid, one postponed....

Nancy Flanagan said...

I'm a member of the Teacher Leaders Network--and a blogger for TEACHER magazine. (No idea why EdWeek uses caps for the mag title; perhaps they think teachers need to shout to be heard, these days.)

I was surprised to read Elena Aguilar's piece, too--the assumption that all teachers have the, umm, option of taking a "personal" day with a district-provided sub when they're feeling overwhelmed. In my district, teachers are allowed two personal days for things that cannot be scheduled outside of school hours: mammograms, foreclosure proceedings on the house you can no longer afford--stuff like that.

I have 31 years in the classroom and admit to have taken a few fake sick days for mental health--perhaps 10 over three decades-- but wouldn't dream of scheduling one in order to get caught up, then writing about it in a national magazine. Might as well paint a target on our collective chests.

The problem is structural, however. In other nations, and some private schools, the concept of a "substitute" teacher is unknown. If a teacher must be absent, the students move forward under the direction of the co-teacher, or work independently. If you're in school for 230 days a year, a more human schedule allows teachers to spread out their workload and take time to think about why they're teaching.

Great blog, by the way.

doyle said...

Dear Frank,

Here's the quote:

Take a day off, now! Do laundry, eat lunch, take a nap, do something fun. I know that one day off is a drop in the bucket, but it’s something—especially if you’re a typical teacher working six days a week. And you probably know that if you keep pushing, wearing yourself down, you’ll get sick and end up staying home anyway. So take a “personal day,” or two, and enjoy it....

Later in the article (to which I no longer have access--I'm a dope), she talks about the other activities. The above quote is the first on her list.

I used to practice medicine--we did work on our "off" time regularly--we ate, breathed, and pooped medicine. Not saying it's healthy if you don't enjoy it (or even if you do), but that's part of being professional.

A few docs I know indeed took "mental health" days--but they never adopted that as a professional solution proposed in, say, JAMA, and they often used it to catch up.

Many of the docs I knew "snuck" into the hospital during vacation days to catch up on paperwork.

The author later proposed limiting our work to 8 hours a day. Maybe we could do that if we stretched out the school year to a full year.

Dear Christine,

Well, Cali is Cali... =)

If you work a full-time, year round job where your work can be distributed over different days, then taking time off now and again for a huge variety of reasons makes sense. Writing about this in a national professional ezine would not play well with most bosses.

Teachers in NJ have about 180-185 classroom days.Each day off cuts into students' effective class time. If we matter (and I think that we do), we should make every effort to be there for the students. If we cannot do our job because we're "exhausted" there may be things inherently wrong with the profession, the profession might not be a good fit for us, we might be otherwise ill, etc.

To take a day off to "do something fun" because we're into our 2nd month back from summer, and to announce this publicly, damages our credence as professionals.

Dear Nancy,

*whew*--I was very relieved to read your words. You nailed the central issue--publicly announcing mental health days as a strategy for dealing with the occasionally overwhelming aspects of our profession paints a target smack dab on our chests.

I agree that the problem is structural, and as such can be fixed. It would be interesting to see how many teachers would support a 230 class day year.

Charlie Roy said...

As an administrator who has the joy of sifting through personal day requests and vacation day requests.... I will just say this.

My best people don't ask for days off during the school year. I'm sure they look forward to breaks and all with the same gusto the rest of us do. If they do need a day they seem sorry to ask.

On the other hand those who seem to care the least about the students they work with are the first to maximize their days off and to make sure all their personal days are used.

From my end and with limited experience it is what I see. I would be the first to argue the intensity of the daily work of teaching is high. But when we insist on building our school year around an agrarian economy that no longer exists - wanting plenty of days off when you have an extended summer break just doesn't come off well.

freddiec said...

The summer is a time for me to re-energize and focus on the New Year ahead. During the school year, it is important for me to be in my class because our students deserve the best opportunity to learn. This past Friday my collaborative (partner) teacher had an emergency. The substitute teacher arrived in class after the bell talking on a cell phone. The substitute did not show any interest in helping the students or assisting me with instruction.

Suffice to say, I went about having a great day with my classes. I am not saying this happens with all substitute teachers, but the attitude displayed was wrong. With a short four months this semester, everyday is important in the learning process. So no, I will not allow exhaustion to be a reason I take a day off from my students. Besides, I would miss being around the group of positive peers I have come to adore.

Kelly "Sitting By the Dock of the Bay" Love said...

Et tu, Brute?

John Spencer - heavens, I hope firemen take days off - I want them to be healthy and well-rested when they have to go back out there and fight the fires. I don't want my surgeon to leave his scalpel in my belly because she needs a nap.

I don't want to read the article this teacher wrote. From the quotes you provided, it sounds like her voice is coming from a solidly female perspective of 'giving teachers/women" permission to take care of themselves. It sounds wimpy.

You gentlemen probably already know this, but I'll let you in on a little secret (this should secure my membership to the He-Man Woman Haters Club) - women say this to each other all the time and they don't mean it. We women have a tendency to martyr ourselves over how hard we work. And since teaching is predominately women, consider the audience. Females play the "I'm more tired than you" no-win contest all the time. Was your point to make teachers feel guilty because they use some of their sick leave/personal days that are provided by human resources to take care of other life issues? Or was it just to say that this particular writer is showing teachers in an unprofessional way?

I am curious to know how you would rewrite or restate this. You have mentioned many times the hard work you put in as a doctor, and there is no denying few of us on this planet could match that level of dedication and hard work. So much so, I'm not even going to try. But is this a competition? Is that the male professional perspective?

Everyday I strive to make 130 kids love their lives. I try to make kids who hate to read (because they can't) not only read, but love it. I also try to customize instruction 130 plus ways, find the perfect book, the right word, the much-needed smile, and encouragement. So, even though I haven't, if I plan on taking a day to recharge my drained batteries, including a flu shot, breast exam, ortho appt., or milk and bread from the grocery store, then I'll do it. Without permission or diminishment of my professionalism.

doyle said...

Dear Kelly,

At least you didn't call John "Brute."

I think Nancy Flanagan stated her position well, and had I her elegance and grace, maybe I would have stated it as kindly as she did.

But I don't--part of my charm. I do hope you read the article. I do not pretend to know anything about the martyr game. I worked hard as a doc, I work hard as a teacher.

My point was not to induce guilt--I'm not a big fan of guilt. It was my point to point out the inherent unprofessionalism in the article.

I'm not sure we're professional; I'm even less sure when we publicly proclaim we have a right to mental health days. It certainly harms our image. I don't think that I said any more than that.

I also agree with Ms. Flanagan that the problem reflects a deeper structural issue. Would you be willing to go to a significantly longer school year?

Nancy Flanagan said...

So--230 days, give or take, is the norm in many nations. However--in a lot of cases, the total hours per school year are about the same as the United States' 180 days. Would I prefer to actively teach three hours a day, have time for conferencing and planning built in to the work day, and take shorter vacations? Yes.

Such a schedule would virtually eliminate the summer learning loss syndrome, too.

I don't think anyone needs a 10-week summer break. I'd recommend a month off and a more humane daily schedule, so teachers could take classes year-round, leave school with no papers to grade, plan with colleagues.

Actually I believe what's standing in the way of this is the Chamber of Commerce and businesses that need cheap teen labor in the summer months.

Ernie said...

The comments regarding the suggestion to take a day off from school when the school year has barely started are interesting. I am one of those workaholics who wonders how so many teachers can walk out the door every day, promptly when their contracted day ends. I don't think highly of the soon-to-retire teacher who consistently chooses to be absent every Monday and/or Friday to use up the sick days that they are "owed."
That being said, with the start of the school year, and all that is required to be completed yesterday, no matter how well I have tried to prepare ahead of time, Colombus Day always seems to be that benchmark day for me when the pace finally slows down to a more normal teacher's pace. Taking a day off to gather one's thoughts --whether though playing or working without interruption seems like a great idea to me. Taking a day off early in the year as a way to deal with stress seems like preventive care. If we don't deal with the stress early on, aren't we more likely to get sick and miss several days of school later in the year?
I'll stand by the argument that if we had more planning time built into our school day instead of a full day of contact with students, much of our work could get done because we would have more time for collaborative planning and tracking down all the people we need to meet with during the school day. More on-site time devoted to planning and professional development would alleviate much of the extra workload that we all take on at the start of a school year - and make taking a day off from school less likely.

cossondra said...

I blogged about this as well at .

Either we, as teachers, want to be professionals and treated as such, or we don't. Whining just makes us look whiny.

bill01370 said...

I get what people are saying about how we are perceived as a profession if we complain about being tired this early in the year. At the same time, this is an exceptionally busy year for me, and I know last week I averaged about 3.5 hours of sleep and still fell behind on my corrections. So I'll be completely unapologetic about being exhausted this October, and I'm sure I'm not alone... although I'd be careful about talking about it other than with other teachers.

That said, I would be all over a longer school year - if I could stretch my 2500-3000 hours I work a year over 10 or 11 months rather than squishing them into nine, that would be great. Even greater would be cutting them back towards 2000 (a 40-hour week times a 50-week work year).

doyle said...

Dear Nancy,

Sounds like a reasonable schedule. I've been tossing it out at other teachers. So far, positive responses--I may push it a bit more locally to see what kind of response I get.

(BTW, I am flattered by your presence here.)

Dear Charlie,

Always good to get your perspective. I suspect both teachers and administrators recognize what you point out, but it's not something we talk about much.

Maybe we should.

Dear Ernie,

Our full day of student contact is limited to 6 or 7 hours in these parts, and even that's stretching it a bit when you factor in prep periods. Not sure about other states.

I will say this--taking a day off as "preventive care" so as not to miss several days later in the year sounds a bit flimsy (and has a hint of extortion). If you need the time off because you're exhausted, I suppose that counts as a sick day. If it happens frequently, you may be far happier in another field.

Most teachers I know are reasonably happy--the unhappy ones, though, are miserable.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Dear bill+numerals,

Ask others in your district how they'd feel about this. I'm curious.

Anonymous said...

A mental health day once in a while is a good thing. And it is a protected right in most contracts. Saying that it is not professional for a teacher to use contracted time off as he or she sees fit indicates that no teacher is a professional and should not be treated with professionalism. No one should tell any teacher that their reason for using their sick days is right or wrong. It is none of your business.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

Ah, you hit the dichotomy right on the head, my nameless one.

Hiding behind a contract in a discussion of professionalism is part of what separates professionals from contracted workers.

The point of the post was to show an example of why teachers may not be universally loved, and why we may not quite be the professionals we aspire to be.

Your logic is correct. I do not believe taking a day or two off for "mental health" during our contracted time is professional (unless, of course, we are talking about real mental health issues). If "you want to be treated with professionalism," well, act professional.

Those of us squawking the loudest about being treated as professionals are often the same ones who hide behind contracts. They're also often the ones who choose to write anonymously.

Thanks for dropping by.