The task of being a teacher today is one that may be filled with a variety of frustration. In fact, I believe that the daily stress in our teaching profession has increased drastically over the past decades. This is due to the fact that a teacher’s range of responsibilities and related expectations have diverged dramatically.
Earlier this week, a friend sent me a “swinging” image with the following text “Every time you feel yourself being pulled into other people’s drama, repeat these words … “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. This stress-reducing mantra is a translation of an old Polish proverb “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy!”
Teacher Feature #49 – Polish Proverb – March, 2015
I wondered why we, as teachers, can identify so well with this powerful, proverb. In my case, during an educational career spanning 40 years, I worked as a classroom teacher with junior and senior high students for 12 years. The vast majority of my educational career was spent as a provincial and divisional Computer/Education Consultant. Many might argue that spending only 30% of my career as a classroom teacher, reduced my exposure to stress significantly. However, I maintain that any dedicated individuals, working in the educational system today, be they Teacher Assistants, Teachers, Consultants, or Administrators are subjected to stress. With this in mind, I wondered why this might be the case.
When I attended university, I worked each summer at Coca Cola on the bottling line where bottles were cleaned, filled with product, capped and packaged for distribution. I’m sure there were the odd days when the job may have had its stressful moments. However, at the end of the day, when we “punched out” our time card, we went home and left those frustrations, and work-related problems, at the job site.
Educators, it seems, do not have such luxuries. Their job, together with the stress of the day often goes home with them. Furthermore, today’s educator seems to be tethered to the job and often to parents by email and other social media applications. The job, which we all know, continues well past the 9:00 am to 4:00 pm day when the school is open. Furthermore, the “teaching day” together with it’s related responsibilities, continues to get longer.
Another reason that I think teachers may gravitate towards drama and added stress in the workplace is that we all want to be helpful. We want to be the “ring leader” and bring happiness and put smiles on everyone’s face. Most students who enter the Faculty of Education do so because they want to improve education and help students succeed. So when students, or other educators, attempt to draw one into their problems, and the related drama surrounding the situation, we often feel the need to “jump in with both feet” and do our best to help. Unfortunately, the results can be both overwhelming and we may not be as helpful as we had first intended. If you are one that can’t avoid jumping in to help “every circus in town”, the following Bill Cosby quotation below will probably resonate with you:
“I don’t know the key to success,
but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
Am I suggesting that you withdraw your help from everyone? No … I think it is more important that you look at “each circus” and determine how best you can support the situation. Sometimes, even walking away and forcing those individuals to work through the issues themselves, provides them with a chance to learn and develop their own coping skills.
When a “new circus” arrives in town, you have to ask yourself … “What is my motivation for becoming involved and, more importantly, what will my involvement cost me in terms of time and stress?” Take time to ask yourself if you can really bring, or add, something unique to help resolve the problem for all involved. If you cannot, bow out gracefully, rather than simply adding another individual to the melee.
Lastly consider what will be the consequences, should you not choose to participate. After all, if you are not going to be part of the solution, don’t be part of the problem. Sometimes one has to be selfish, if you are already trying to manage several monkeys in your own circus. Furthermore, in today’s educational environment, you know there are always going to be new circuses coming to town.
These can be tough decisions but perhaps you will remember this Polish proverb and ask yourself whether you might reduce your stress by not getting involved but in just “monkeying around”.
Take care & keep smiling
Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”