Is it possible to sleep hard for 8 ½ hours and yet wake up even more exhausted than before? It is May, I am a teacher and parent which equals tiredness that defies description. These are the days when I especially long for a decent amount of time for lunch, school start times that align with recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and breaks shown by research to be necessary to recharge the brain for learning. Fresh air – thinking of the book Last Child in the Woods – would also be lovely.
At the same time, I love teaching. It is my calling in life. Teaching is a career change I made in my 40s by teaching part-time for a few years in a private school then making the change official by completing a teaching graduate program. (I always wondered why anyone would get two master’s degrees. Now I know because I am one of those people.)
In the midst of end-of-year exhaustion, here are thoughts I want to share. Note that this comes from my experience living in the U.S. I wish I had a broader world view; however, the U.S. is where I have spent my time being a teacher and a parent.
Create a culture of reading in your home. Read with your child. Read yourself. Read together as a family. I still read out loud to my own teen age kids. One teen and I are reading aloud Emily Wilson’s artistic and masterful translation of The Odyssey, written in iambic pentameter verse. Meanwhile another kid requested that I read her one of her favorite (and quite hilarious) books Finally by Wendy Mass. Last week I finished Hannah’s War and this week I resumed my progress through Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. My husband reads too; recently, at our teens’ suggestion, he read Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys. Often after dinner we hang out in our living room, or on warm evenings, on our front porch, each of us with a book. It is a pleasant way to be together at the end of the day.
Not sure where to start? Dubious that you have enough time in your day to read? Sarah Mackenzie of the Read Aloud Read Revival has answers to your questions in her smart, lively, and practical book The Read Aloud Family.
Connection and Correction
People need connection. Kids really need connection. It’s not optional; connection is as critical as food and water. There are times my heart hurts because I can tell that kids are not getting the connection they need at home. Parents are busy and distracted. Many parents also have not done the work to deal with their own wounds and end up projecting their own fears onto their children. This prevents them from seeing their kids; prevents parents from connecting with their kids.
At the same time, kids also need correction. Allowing kids to do ‘whatever’ seems to be a particularly serious issue in the U.S. A friend who moved to the U.S. last year from Belgium recently shared with me several instances where she was surprised that parents did not correct their children’s misbehavior. My friend’s observations align with what I see daily. Many kids here do not have parents enforcing the boundaries kids so desperately need. In the words of one student: “My parents don’t care about me. They let me do whatever I want.” You are not doing your kids a favor if they do not have age appropriate chores at home, if they do not have strict limits on screen time (30 minutes maximum per day for non-school related items), if they are allowed to have social media. Same for parents regarding screen time and social media. Adults are not exempt from devices messing with their brains and relationships.
Need concrete resources? Here are some I have found helpful:
- The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. Brains are fascinating.
- Between Parent & Teenager by Haim Ginott, How to Talk so Teens Will Listen & Listen so Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and It’s OK Not To Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids by Heather Shumaker. These three books top my list because each of them have scripts for what to say in a variety of situations. Yes! Finally help for what to actually say.
- The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax. If I could require parents to read this, I would.
Related to teaching, are questions swirling through my mind about the way society is structured. I want people to create a society where caring is valued. We’ve built a society that doesn’t exactly support community, connection, growth, or care for the natural environment. Can we all slow down? Can we bring the feminine and masculine into balance? Could slighter shorter work hours, more sleep, a less frantic pace be a reality? Can I have this where I live or do I need to move to a different part of the world? Questions like this tend to tumble in my mind during the night at busy times of the year like this when I have to meditate more than usual to find stillness.
In a few hours, it will once again be night. Here’s hoping this night of sleep will be restful.
Thank you for this post and for your service as a teacher. I like a lot of what you said but wanted to push back on some parts that seemed to me too rigid. Although there are obviously parenting practices that are more or less harmful, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The screen time limit really stood out to me because it seems to portray screens as “bad” or possibly more desirable for being forbidden. Screens can be a wonderful resource depending on how they’re used: I grew up playing video games with my family to bond, and I participated in storytelling forums online that nurtured my creativity. I know neurodiverse people who felt much more socially integrated if they had a chance to connect with people online and not just in person. I love @thegamereducator on Instagram, who has a lot of content encouraging parents to think more conscientiously about how screens are used and how to set boundaries that work for their family. I got the impression from your post that any parent who allows more than 30 minutes of screen time is letting their child spiral out of control.
I also really appreciate your book recommendations. My husband and I are both avid readers and love reading to our child. At the same time, not everyone has the luxury of reading multiple parenting books and then reading their kids the classics at the end of the day. That requires a certain level of education, leisure time, and access to resources like a library or bookstore or e-reader that some don’t have. I’m really hesitant to blame parents for doing a “bad” job when so many of these problems are rooted in societal dysfunction. I would love if you had book recommendations for how to have compassion for and not judge other parents who are trying their best, or resources for those who want to support parents who want to be better but need help.
Oh no, I didn’t mean to blame parents for doing a bad job. A caveat I need to add – the majority of my students come from homes where parents have resources of time and money to buy their kids all things electronic – tablets, phones, earbuds, games & apps – which means I assume that they also have resources to access the library. Because of where I live, a significant percentage of my students are likely LDS. If the church values education and goodness, why isn’t reading books more valued? Why don’t parents choose the library? I will bashfully admit I am making assumptions which violates one of the four agreements (Don Ruiz). This comes from a place of being so tired; from this tired place I start feeling bitter about parents who have resources for all the electronic stuff yet are oblivious about how that stuff affects their kids (which means more work for me).
That is great that you played together as a family. That is being together! What I see are tons of teens alone on their phones. They aren’t playing together with their families. They aren’t interacting with people in real life. And yes, so many of these problems are rooted in societal dysfunction. Can we craft a society that works better for everyone? From my own experience, 32-35 hours of work a week seems to be the place where I can manage life without becoming exhausted. A standard US work week is more than that. I get it that many parents are worn out which seems to result in lots of screen time for kids.
What role could the church play? I heard that once upon a time, decades ago, the Sunday School curriculum included reading literature. Now CFM doesn’t even have people reading much scripture; people just read the manual. Could ward libraries be stocked with books other than just church supplies for people who do not have access to a library? Could thinking carefully and making intentional choices become part of church culture? (As opposed to worthiness rhetoric.)
Thank you so much for this thoughtful response. This context is really helpful in understanding where you’re coming from: “A caveat I need to add – the majority of my students come from homes where parents have resources of time and money to buy their kids all things electronic – tablets, phones, earbuds, games & apps – which means I assume that they also have resources to access the library.” If you’re up to it, I would love a post on what the Church/people at church could change. I’m so intrigued by the idea that Sunday School used to include literature!
I would love to write such a post someday! The part about literature I learned from older women in my ward; the 80+ year-olds have fascinating stories about what church used to be like.
Related to what your friend said about moving to the States from Belgium, I just had a friend with the opposite experience. She was an American living in a Western European country I won’t name and she said every time her baby cried or her kids (none of whom are yet school age) were loud in public, she was shamed and humiliated even if she was trying to calm them down. She felt like her kids were not welcome in the outside world, and she felt horribly isolated. It was such a common occurrence for her that she learned a sentence in the local language just asking people to leave her family alone.
I don’t think any one country or region is “superior” in parenting. There are major cultural and social differences across continents, but there are almost always good and bad things we can take away from any country’s example.
Thanks for sharing the “dark side” of this parenting practice. I agree that not any one place is superior. I am fascinated by the differences that I have read about. My secret wish is to have a year off to travel the world and study the intertwining of education and parental philosophies and practices around the world.
Your year traveling the world to study education and parenting would make an amazing book! I hope you can do it.
I don’t necessarily think there is anything out of sorts with your post, but in the last 2 or 3 years it seems all I hear about is how hard it is to be a teacher, and how much suffering they do to do their job. I am sorry, but everybody works hard. Everybody burns out. Everybody needs a break. Most of us never get a break, or a work day that is only 7 or 8 hours, or an entire summer off.
Teachers do great work. So do Doctors, so do plumbers, so do people in food service. I am getting tired of so many posts bemoaning how hard it is to be so great 9 months out of the year.
Everyone is working hard to keep society going.
sigh So many misconceptions about teacher work. We do not have the same hours as the students: we have longer. There are meetings, lesson planning, and grading, for instance. Many teachers get a 20 minute break for the entire work day. Also, the emotional burden is heavy. You have a set of students that you care for every work day and try to keep safe and happy so they will be able to learn. I think a lot of people think they understand teacher work because they went to school or are parents, but there is so much the students and parents never see. Plus, I think we should to listen to those who are struggling with whatever work they do and try to understand. Everyone has struggles: what are yours?
I agree with everything you just said. That is why I am tired of constantly hearing that teachers are somehow more special than any other working person.
Traci, thank you. Sigh was my response as well.
I used to hold teachers in higher esteem. After seeing what happened during the Covid lockdown, I was shocked and dissappointed.
Jean, The Killers have a fantastic song “Tyson vs Douglas” that includes the line: when I saw him go down, felt like somebody had lied. Sounds like you had a similar experience. Like other professions, some teachers are great and some are not. It is unfortunate to form an opinion of people working in an entire profession based upon what happened during a (hopefully) once in a lifetime pandemic that revealed serious societal structural cracks.
What it revealed is that most teachers in our entire district simply took a break and didn’t even try to focus on assigning any “distance learning”. In some districts 25 to 30 percent of the students never even logged on during covid. In out district, they don’t know what that number is because no one ever bothered to check. 15% of teachers are great. 20% need to be fired immediately. The rest are just working for the man, just like everyone else.
G Blansky, I find your comment puzzling because I did not write any of the things about which you commented.