Why We Need to Be Exhausted. It’s a Gift.

A MiddleWeb Blog

We have only one minute
and I love you.
—Dunya Mikhail

It’s been an interesting summer.

I read somewhere that just as animals have a “fight, freeze, or flee” response to extreme and present danger, so do human beings; it just shows up differently.

Spending hours on Facebook shouting down the racist neighbor of your uncle, say, or bingeing Warrior Nun on Netflix after looking at the Covid-19 stats for your state.

I’ve discovered I am a “freeze” girl. I tire very, very quickly. I stay still, hunker down. I putter and nest. I organize closets to a fine Martha Stewart edge. I spot-treat. I read for hours. I sleep.

And I get really interested in the concept of conservation. A new and constant litmus test has emerged for me, not just for my actions but also my thoughts and emotions: “Is whatever I am doing right now worth this expenditure of my precious energy?”

Many times out of ten, it is not.

Meanwhile I am contemplating my strange return to school in just a few short days: a new position in a new district, under New York’s new strict coronavirus regulations. This has resulted in a perfect storm of not being able to do much, if anything, to prepare.

Typically at this time in the year I am buzzing around in my car with gallons of iced coffee, copying things, writing emails, planning lessons and decorating my classroom. Except paper copies may harbor the virus. And I don’t yet have access to my online rosters, schedule or grades.

I can neither set up a classroom with the five thousand things I would normally bring in to a new school – nor do I have a classroom to tear down and disinfect with five thousand things I have accumulated. (God bless the 9th grade English teacher on a recent Zoom call who asked our facilities director, “Um… I have literally hundreds of books in my classroom. What do you want me to do with them?”)

Typically this inability to control my world – to meet the vagaries of coronavirus life with preparation, preparation, exhaustion, and more preparation – would be literally keeping me up at night.

Is whatever I am doing right now worth this expenditure of my precious energy?

It is not.

Spending wisely

Worry is not a worthy expenditure of our precious energy. Anger at factors beyond our control is not a worthy expenditure of our precious energy. Fear that we will fail is not a worthy expenditure of our precious energy. And good god do we need our precious energy as teachers and school staff this year.

We need it to learn how to design effective online learning experiences for K-12 students. We need it to teach kids how to stay safe when they’re together in a school, and correct them when they are not. We need it to reach out and include parents and families in our communications more carefully and intimately than we ever have before.

And we need that precious energy for ourselves – to mitigate against the drain of being helpers, caregivers, and front line workers during a pandemic and a political cycle that has exposed and deepened all of our country’s most raw wounds.

In this first post of the year, I am inviting us to look upon our exhaustion as a gift. It will teach us what is nice for our kids and what is necessary: what is needed in our classrooms, and what is not.

And perhaps most importantly, it will allow us to renegotiate our chronically dysfunctional relationship with “hard work” as teachers and Americans, and focus us on what matters: our children.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a closet to spritz with lavender water.


NOTE: Dina’s new blog title for 2020-2021 – I Will Screw This Up – references Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race.

Dina Strasser

Dina Strasser is a veteran educator of 20 years, 14 of those as a middle school ELA/ELL teacher. For six years she worked in many capacities at the non-profit group EL Education. Now she's back in the classroom, and this year she’ll be teaching middle and high school English language learners. Her early experiments with dirt have progressed into a lifelong love of the outdoors.

2 Responses

  1. Sunday says:

    Thanks, Dina!!!

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