Note: This fourth article of our five-week series in October 2019 highlights relevant discussion topics to
emphasize how the Dear Dr. Mooney community is a place where teachers of English Learners can give
and receive support.
Three weeks ago, we talked about how all teachers need teacher-friends. They are those colleagues who make your last minute copies on their planning period or bring your favorite coffee on the Tuesday that will.not.end! We all need support to know we are not alone.
Another way your teacher-friends provide support is by reminding you every once in awhile that you are not Superman/Superwoman. And when they do, it’s not to degrade your abilities or your desire to be the most help to all of your students. Instead, it’s to remind you that you are human. You can only do so much, even when the needs are great.
Teaching English Learners well means getting to know them academically and personally. A large number of ELs live in poverty, and sometimes it’s deep, soul-wrenching poverty. Teaching well means wading into the poverty-induced trauma of their lives that are often complicated by many additional factors. It means not only being a teacher, but also a mother/father, a counselor, a mediator, an advocate, a role model, and a provider of basic needs.
You didn’t choose this difficult career of educating ELs because of the money or the fame. You did it because you care. You care deeply about the lives of other humans; young humans who need that care.
The problem is when you care so much and the needs are so great, you try to become that super hero. You may try to meet all of their needs. That’s when your teacher-friends step in to tell you you’re about to cross that line; the line between being a help to your students and causing harm to yourself. Sometimes you just have to let go so you can come back another day.
I recently heard a presentation describing the continuum on which all people regard their work. We either experience some degree of compassion satisfaction, burnout, or compassion fatigue.
Compassion satisfaction is feeling good about your work and the ways you are able to provide care to those in your sphere of influence.
Burnout involves feelings of hopelessness and that what you are doing is never enough to make a difference. These feelings often grow gradually.
Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary trauma, results from being exposed to other people’s traumatic events. Repeatedly hearing stories of students’ lives in poverty can trigger these significant negative feelings and fear, particularly when you have little power to change those conditions. Secondary trauma is qualitatively different than burnout and cannot be “willed away” by the victim. Often, professional, psychological help may be required.
To get an idea of where you currently fall on this continuum, take a few minutes to complete a self-scoring evaluation like this one… Professional Quality of Life Elements.
Your evaluation may show you often experience compassion satisfaction in your work. That’s great! Being a teacher is not an easy job. It’s complex balancing all of the responsibilities that go with it, in addition to care for students and for ourselves.
If you determine you are at risk for burnout or compassion fatigue, please seek additional support. Most employers provide an Employee Assistance Program that allows an evaluation and limited sessions with a professional counselor at no cost.
Just remember, even Superwoman needs to rely on her friends every now and then.
What about you?
- Have you found yourself trying to be Superman/Superwoman for your students?
- How do you balance it all?
- What kinds of support do you receive, or need, from your teacher-friends?