I Burnt Out Three Weeks into the New Year, After 18 Months

On the fourth night, I was rubbing my head with both hands, watching myself crying in the bathroom mirror, asking myself, “What the fuck is going on?” I had no idea what I was crying about. A few minutes before, I was watching TV, trying to relax after the workday.

The same thing happened the evening before, while I was trying to take a break from work before getting back to work. And, it happened the two evenings before that.

It was only on the fourth night that I realised I needed to take a break to figure out what I was going through. I needed to reach out and get myself some help.

I know that I don’t do well when I’m left alone for too long. I’m okay with doing things by myself, like going to a bar or museum, where there are other people around. But, with not much to do these days, I’ve been left very much alone.

Knowing this, I started writing more, taking more pictures, rolled out my yoga mat, kept my water bottle full, and bought paperback books to read. I connected with my buddy to arrange socially-distanced walks and went for walks by myself. I cut way down on the drinking. I plugged in full-spectrum light bulbs and turned the brightness down on my computer monitor. I was preparing myself to get through what I knew was going to be a challenging time.

I made it only three weeks into the new year.

It wasn’t only three weeks that wore me down. It started almost a year-and-a-half ago.

In November of 2019, we start strike action in an attempt to get a better deal on our expired collective agreement. With that, buildings that were once vibrant and bustling before and after school fell silent. I also get engaged.

In February of 2020, I finally get the ACL surgery that I put off for nearly 20 years. That has me laying in bed for the better part of a week. While I learn how to walk again, the announcement is made that March Break is going to be extended by a week.

In April of 2020, now I’m up and walking unassisted, and we switch to online learning. I start a podcast. I commit to recording an episode every day that we are teaching online. QuarantineEd starts around the same time. Teachers are finally talking about what education could be.

May, 2020: George Floyd is murdered. Civil rights become front-page news as if it hadn’t been neglected until now. “Black Lives Matter” becomes the slogan of a people. A conversation starts.

June, 2020: I find myself in couple’s counselling. The adjustment to a life shared with someone else becomes too difficult for me. I find myself buckling under the pressure of empty time. I start to close in on myself.

Ah, finally, September. Some relief. We’re returning to school and the life we once knew will be recognisable again. It’s changed, but we resist that and press forward. We’ll return to a “new normal,” blissfully unaware of how oxymoronic we all sound when we say it out loud. It’s not unlike someone who says the letters, “LOL,” instead of just laughing.

Wait! We need two more weeks to prepare. Okay!

Wait! You’re not teaching at the school anymore, you’ve been moved online. No, no, no, no, no…that’s not going to work for me.

Wait! We’ve been able to recall you. Oh, you’re amazing!

Wait! What is my teaching assignment?

Monday: School starts tomorrow, but it’s going to be staggered. Here’s your teaching assignment. We know you haven’t taught this before but….Oh, don’t worry, I’m just so thankful that you were able to get me back in the classroom. Thank you so much.

Tuesday: Hey Maa, hey Dad. Yeah, my relationship with…we just split up.

Wednesday: Hey! This year’s going to look a lot different but it’s going to be good, real good. Now, I haven’t taught these grades before, or a combined class, except for during one of my teaching placements, and you won’t be on a rotary schedule like you normally would be, except for French, but you’re all real capable so we’ll be okay.

October. Move into a new apartment.

November. Finally settled in. Now, I can focus on work.

December. We’re told to bring anything home that we think we might need in case we move to online learning. I’m sorry, Maa, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to visit this year. Things are just…the numbers are way too high. Plus, I’m a high-risk contact.

January.

In February, March Break now happens in April.

All of this says nothing about the day-to-day reality of teaching. Students are children and they behave like children. They are learning how to navigate the world and are curious about the position of their boundaries. An invisible threat is no match for a child with a compulsion.

One of our jobs as teachers is to show students how the world is interconnected. Nothing in the world exists without its own unique story. Something, as they say, can’t come from nothing. Students, as it happens, exist in the world and have their own stories. Showing them how they are linked to all of the rest is easy. Getting students to understand what those connections mean isn’t.

How I got here isn’t the result of a single event. It’s the outcome of a series of interconnected events that I have been the conduit for. Teaching is only one part of my multifaceted identity. Disassociating teaching from my other identities is near impossible. I love my job but it’s not all of who I am.

All teachers have lives outside of the classroom but their work always goes home with them. In the last 18 months, teachers have been asked to transform from mercenaries to military to martyrs. Teachers want their students to be successful and will fight for this cause. When asked to transition without warning, we dutifully donned our caps and marched on. Now, we are becoming martyrs. We have been in the trenches for too long.

This is a needless war being led by commanders who have never seen the front lines and whose soldiers are falling in no man’s land. The troops can no longer go marching on. The little one needs to stop.

Despite knowing all of this, the question I asked at the top remains unanswered, “What the fuck is going on?”

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