Well Teachers Teach Well

Well Teachers Teach Well

Tammy Metcalf (Greeneview High School, USA) and Liz Wrocklage-Gonda (Sycamore High School, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7524-7.ch006
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Abstract

No matter what field one enters, landing that first job and depositing that first paycheck is like no other feeling in the world. The excitement, anticipation, and demands of any career can be exceptionally challenging, and many people underestimate the toll that work—even meaningful work—can have on one's physical and mental well-being. This underestimation is especially true in the field of education, where many teachers in ever-expanding roles (teacher, mentor, counselor, etc.) work non-stop nine months out of the year only to find themselves physically and perhaps mentally exhausted. This chapter explores the teaching careers of college friends and how they have been able to break the cycle of Work/Exhaust/Repeat by recognizing, modifying, and preventing patterns that are ultimately harmful to their physical and mental well-being and make them less effective as educators.
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Section 1: Tammy’S Time As An Unwell Teacher

The Presentation

“Well Teachers Teach Well” was the title of a session Liz and I co-presented along with several others at the National Council of English Teachers (NCTE) 2010 Annual Conference at Disney World. For someone who had never visited this magical site, I believed the stars had aligned and that my reward for finally achieving better health, both physically and mentally, was that I was—really and truly—going to Disney World. After nearly twenty years in education, I was ready for the trip of a lifetime.

Ironically, this presentation on teacher wellness was incredibly stressful. I wasn’t sure the presentation was going to happen. We didn’t meet our fourth presenter until we arrived in Florida. We had communicated with her via email, but until the night before, we didn’t know her from Eve. Next we discovered that our presentation was scheduled in the same time slot as that of Dr. Tom Romano from Miami University of Ohio. Dr. Romano is a rock star in the English teacher community. Choosing between the two presentations was the equivalent of choosing between visiting a candy factory or going for a root canal with no anesthesia. Again, there was no stress there. After all, I wanted to see Dr. Romano’s presentation, too (and I did see him—on a shuttle bus. I was this close…), but we decided that we’d be satisfied with whatever number of participants attended our session. Our room was large enough to accommodate eighty people, but realistically we expected maybe twenty, at best. A disastrous trial hair run the day before added to my anxiety. Seriously, what was I thinking trying to straighten my hair in southern Florida? The next morning we arrived at our designated room and set up for the presentation. As we attempted (unsuccessfully) to get our laptops and connections in working order, attendees started trickling in, first slowly, then more quickly, then frantically.

“Those poor people,” we thought (Why won’t this load?). “They must have missed the bus to the other site to see Tom Romano,” we said to each other (Um, there’s no internet connection). “Oh well. His loss is our gain!” (We’ll just have to wing it!)

But they hadn’t missed the bus. As we prepared to start our presentation, we looked out upon a room full of people—standing room only—who had come to hear us discuss teacher wellness. Why were so many people in our session? I think it was because they were literally sick and tired and were looking for answers beyond medication and “Why are you stressed? You have summers off.”

So we built a presentation and they came. Our panel consisted of five educators from different levels and backgrounds and our motives were true; we wanted to help English educators cope with the increasingly demanding stressors placed on them. For that ninety minute period, there was no stress, no anxiety, and no competition. There was only happiness—and wellness.

“But You Have Summers Off!”

Since starting my teaching career, I have been sick. There was self-induced worrying (about implementing a new writing program) and externally-induced worrying (such as being targeted as an ineffective teacher and surviving a book challenge), but in each case I seemed to be able to pull through, first with the help of my family doctor and pharmaceuticals and then with the help of supportive friends and administrators (yes, there ARE supportive administrators out there).

Then something changed. Medications didn’t work; friends were unable to help; my husband was at a complete loss. It was clear that I needed to make some changes, but like most other teachers (and people for that matter), I had to learn my lesson the hard way. Liz, my soul sister, has also had some ups and downs. In fact, Liz and I have been united in friendship and stress for over twenty years. It was her friendship and guidance that helped me realize that I needed to make changes. For that reason, this chapter is comprised of two sections. The first section chronicles how I landed up in The Land of Stress, while the second section provides stress management strategies so you don’t end up in there.

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