It's Elementary!

by Jamie Forrest

Perspective and balance October 17, 2010

Filed under: eci831,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 2:30 pm

I have had quite the scary week and a bit.  I won’t bore you will all the details, but my blood pressure went through the roof and stayed there for 6+ days.  It caused me to be shaky, light-headed, and, according to my doctor, a prime candidate for hospitalization.  Through some fast talking and negotiation, she allowed me to stay home with the strict orders: immediate meds, a series of tests, no caffeine, no drinking, no salt and definitely no work.

So, why am I posting this on my class blog?  This medical scare (that is often related to stress, but not always) got me thinking about my commitments and how they have been affecting me.  I have taken on a lot this year.  I have many responsibilities through work.  Some were my choice: mentor, tech person, social committee lead, teacher-librarian helper, and classroom teacher of 27 rambunctious little 8 year olds; and some were not my choice: new curricula to learn, a new report card, SMART Goals provided by the division.  Then, outside of work, I had taken on a grant application, an exercise regimen, my participation in Twitter and this class.  That seems like a lot when it is all written down like this.  This experience has forced me to look at some things to let go of, and some things to modify, if not my participation, than my thinking about it.

I have decided to let the grant application go.  The deadline was next week.  I was looking forward to it because I was learning how to edit video for this grant and the money would have helped with my final project for this class, but there is no way I can get this done in time and follow my doctor’s orders.  The kids that I worked with will be disappointed, but they will just have to understand that health comes first.

Then I got to thinking about this class and my reaction to it.  I am a bit of a perfectionist.  Often when I hear amazing  teachers speak, instead of walking away feeling inspired to try new things, I feel inadequate and compelled to do EVERYTHING they suggested, just to keep up.  I love learning new things, but my all or nothing mentality has left me feeling a little… stressed.  I read about the wonderful things our guest speakers are doing.  I read about the wonderful things my classmates are doing (and some, I admit, I don’t understand).  I feel like if I don’t understand everything, I won’t be “good enough.”  I know what I want to learn out of this class, but is it enough to keep up with the others and be worthy of a “Grad Studies” class.  I worry about these types of things all the time.

Then I got to thinking about Twitter.  I follow 516 people.  I used to try to read every Tweet.  Sometimes I would feel inspired by what I read and sometimes I would feel, as I did with this class, that I was not good enough to be amongst these people, that I am not doing enough.  There are so many wonderful people doing wonderful things, and there are often so many negative comments about what some teachers are doing (including myself), how could I ever be good enough?

So, here is what I have come up with during my forced leave:

  • I follow 516 people on Twitter.  140 characters allows me to see the BEST of what they are doing.  It gives me a snapshot of greatness.  516 snapshots in fact.  I need to learn that I, alone, cannot possibly live up to 516 people’s moments of greatness.  So, I need to read, maybe learn a thing or two, but learn to say “great job” and move on.
  • I need to learn that the people I follow on Twitter and the students in this class all come from different backgrounds, different experiences, different access to technology and are working with different age groups.  I cannot possibly do the same things that they are doing because of my particular set of circumstances.  I work with young children.  These are children who are not of the age to join social media sites.  So, everything I am learning in that regard needs to be for me, as a teacher, or about the philosophies that I can apply for my students.  I don’t need to know everything that my classmates know.  Some of them have been working a lot longer with many of these tools than I have.  I need to remember that as long as I am moving forward, I am good.  I teach my students with this belief, I should be able to allow this “forward progress” mentality for myself too.
  • The negative comments I read on Twitter are not directed at me personally.  Even if they would be, I have to remember that these people don’t know me or my situation.  They, too, only get 140 characters of who I am.  Yes, I do some of the things that are frowned upon by Twitter members, but I do so many good things too.  For example, yes I have my desks in rows.  (140 characters) However, this is a space issue in my class and my students are often turned this way and that, talking to and collaborating with others.  (More than 140 characters).  I can only do what I can do.  I have to learn to accept that.  It is okay to do what I have to do to make my classroom functional.

So now that I have found some “mental” perspective, I need to incorporate some balance into it…  What do you think?  Have you had experiences like this?  What do you do to talk yourself down from that feeling of perfectionist inadequacy?  Please share any advise that you have.


17 Responses to “Perspective and balance”

  1. Tara W Says:

    What an honest reflection! Such perspective will continue to make you phenomenal at what you do! Please take the time to get better so you can return to what you obviously love!! As for all the things that would take more than 140 characters to explain…nothing can account for your professional judgement! Trust it! Also, I have learned many great ideas from you!!

  2. Stephen King Says:

    Good luck in your search for balance. I think many of us in education are guilty of trying to do too much or are in unfortunate times where too much is being asked of us by our schools. Sometimes disconnecting from twitter, the internet, and taking time for you and your family is the most important thing for you to do to be effective in the classroom. You are not helping if you are too sick to work.

    I also tried to read every tweet from the people I follow (and I follow fewer than you) but realized I just couldn’t do it. Now that I’ve been doing it for awhile I’m happy if I read about 100 tweets a day and follow up on five or six links. None of us can do it all.

    Nice reflection.

  3. Good grief, Jamie! I’m retired and I can’t keep up with the <100 twitterers I follow.

    I can relate with your post. Last year was my last year of teaching. I spent most of it sick. I also spent most of it prepping and marking it seemed. Even on my "sick" days it seemed like I was spending several hours not only writing dayplans but also answering emails and telephone questions in addition to the online marking. I really tried to get into the new social studies curriculum for grades 6 and 7 and incorporate technology as much as possible. I felt pretty isolated as I couldn't really connect with anyone else teaching the same things. I was lucky enough to have a PLC of other teachers teaching CPT 10 or I would have really gone off the deep end.

    I got sick with flu. It went on forever. I went to the special flu clinic at St. Paul's hospital on 3 different occasions. Also, my blood pressure rose, and I had severe pain in my right shoulder from improper posture and lack of exercise. I burnt out.

    I would have taken the last 2 months off, but best highlight of the whole year happened during that time. About 70 EAL (ESL) students and parents came out to my school in Hafford from Saskatoon to spend the day. We walked around town, went out to the Biosphere Reserve, had an international picnic (if you are Muslim you can only eat chicken wieners!), played soccer, and hung out. The EAL students and my Grade 6 and 7/8 students had been corresponding by email beforehand, and so some personal connections had been made. Everyone had a super time!

    Teaching is the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. As rewarding as it is, it is still one of the most stressful professions around. You are right to take care of yourself. As you get older, your resiliency becomes less and so you have to factor that into how much energy you can spare for teaching.

    Good luck. I love your posts.

  4. Alyson Says:

    Jamie – Even those of us who have been in education for a long time feel the same way. It is easy to show only what you want on Twitter or in a blog or on Facebook. Aside from likely being completely inappropriate from a professional stand point as you said – it is only 140 characters. Also I might follow 800 people on twitter but I really follow 100 people on Twitter or maybe even less. I scroll through so many pausing to look at people who inspire or build me up and ignoring those who don’t necessarily do that. And as you pointed out – everyone has different situations. Some teachers have found a practice that works for them in their current situation. However if you were to put them in another situation with a different principal/administration etc things might have to change.

    I have to guard against anxiety-attacks – so much to do and not enough time to do it in and it takes time to build teams around you who believe as you do and can partner with you. But your health comes first. And no matter how wonderful a teacher you want to be you won’t be able to do it at all if you are sick or not there. Trust me…I am learning that more and more as I get older.

    Keep people close who believe in you and can help you get where you want to go next. Stretch but not to the snapping point. ((hugs)) you deserve it – you are a good teacher and your students are lucky. Get healthy and get back to your kids.


  5. Neil Blumengarten Says:

    Jaime, I came to a similar realitization last spring. I joined Twitter last October, but really began to follow educators in January. I was unprepared for the onslaught of, well, everything. I read about some great and wonderful things going on and I got depressed that I didn’t see an opportunity in the school I teach to try some of them. We are far from being a 1:1 school. The best I can hope for is to borrow a laptop cart for a few days at a time.

    Our network is pretty shaky as it is, so it’s not always feasible to get the students on the internet. And our internet usage rules border on Draconian, meaning I don’t think I could pull off a classroom blog, due to all of the restrictions.

    So, I came to realize, I didn’t have to compete or even try to keep up with those I follow. They have their own situations and I have mine. I can use the best to inspire me, keep some of the rest as hopes for the future, and ignore the rest.

    As a result, I’m a lot happier this year and while I would love to try some of the things I read about on Twitter, I know it’s not the end of the world if I don’t.

    I guess it comes down the old Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.”

    I hope you feel better!

  6. Bill Gaskins Says:

    Jamie, I understand what you are going through.I often have a difficult time finding a balance in everything I do. I am no longer in the classroom but working teacher professionals that have a direct link with students. I like to think I am impacting kids through working with teachers. This school year I have been working harder than I have ever worked. I am trying to keep a balance between my job as a district curriculum coordinator, a professional learning life, a family life, community leader, and a blogger. I told my wife I have reached a point in my profesional life I am not doing anything well and seem like I am always fighting for time.

    Reading your post comes at a good time for me and I appreciate your honesty. I like twitter but I have not been able to make it work for me since it is blocked within my school district. When time permits, I jump into twitter at infrequent times during the week.

    I do keep my blogging life up to date. It helps me keep a balance in my learning life. Hang in!


  7. steptul Says:

    And I thought my workload was unbearable…
    When I’ve read you post, idea of Shirky “The technological tools we are using do not get socially interesting until they get technically boring” have somehow evolved into, “One shouldn’t use technological tools as a supplement to well known ones until one is completely comfortable and relaxed around these tools.” (too long…) So get bored by Wikies, Tweeter and alike, and than spice it up by introducing them to others.

    Cheer up

  8. Lisa M Lane Says:

    I also understand. One of the things I figured out is that for so many of the people I follow and whose work I respect, this is ALL they do. Many are educational technologists, or teach ed tech. Those of us who are in class every day have that as our primary job, and studying ed tech because we believe in the techniques for teaching is like adding another job. I thought at first it would begin to meld together, but whenever I take a class or attend a conference or seminar it is clear to me that it doesn’t. I also want to learn everything, process everything, reflect on everything. It’s impossible while we’re teaching to do it all. I think that’s why I am both delighted and frustrated by my social network. Sometimes my response is, “well, of course you had time to think of/do/be something incredible like that, because you’re not teaching/rarely teaching/teaching ed tech.”

    I am, if I may say so, very proud of you for not doing the grant. I sometimes have to congratulate myself for saying NO. Try to feel good about that, not like you’re giving up something, but that in not doing it you achieved something important.

  9. I completely agree with everyone who responded to you, so far. I follow over 2000 people, all educators. There is no way I would ever have time to keep up with everything they say. In fact, there are many days when I’m just too busy to look at Twitter at all. I pop in when I can and read the Tweets that are coming up at that moment. I also check in with a quick search on the hash tag #edchat or #edtech to see what people are talking about that day. I have about 25 people who I view as mentors or VWTs (very wise tweeters). I set up a group in Tweetdeck that pulls out those Tweets. If necessary, I can check in once a week and still catch up. Don’t let Twitter intimidate you or rule your life. Pop in when you can and let the rest go. If it’s really hot, it will come up again. I also found it helpful to prioritize my projects and try very hard to integrate one new technology tool at a time with my students. It’s absolutely ok to let some things go to preserve your sanity. Don’t forget to breath!

  10. Jil W Says:

    I follow around 2k people on Twitter and there is no way in the WORLD I can follow every tweet, in fact, I usually filter them by keywords depending on what I’m wanting to know about using a list in Tweetdeck to search for something specific.
    DONT compare yourself to others…..ever. There are some amazing people on Twitter and other social networks and if I compared myself to them, life would look fairly sucky to say the least. Do your best and do things at the speed you are comfortable with.
    I am in the same boat as you are in many ways…medical condition, grant deadlines, etc, etc. Your health has to come first. My boss once told me….this institution will be here long after you are gone. She said…that may sound terrible, but it is true for us all. Do your best, do not put yourself at risk, its NOT that important no matter how much you think it is!! If I croak today, they will replace me in 2 weeks. That’s life at a university I suppose. The point is this…. all things in moderation…take your time…dont judge yourself by what others do (or SAY they are doing)…and take care of YOU.

  11. […] obligations are not suffering.  This is also important for my personal health.  I empathized with Jamie as she described her struggles this past week.  I faced the same types of things last year as I […]

  12. Shawna Stangel Says:

    Hi Jamie,

    From one self-proclaimed perfectionist to another – It is OK to not do it all. We tend to be our own biggest critic and worst enemy. It took me a long time to admit that to myself and it took a few personal situations and a great group of supportive people to help me to “see the light”. The very first grad class that I took 3 years ago was taught by Dr. Paulette Brooks. (If you have not had the opportunity to take a class from her I would highly suggest it.) She became a wonderful mentor and support for me at a time, when I too, took on way too much in my life because I thought I needed to do so. Everyone was learning so much and trying to do so many innovative and creative things with their professional and personal lives. Her advice to me at that time, which I very strongly took to heart and have actively been trying to practice is conceptually simple and procedurally difficult.

    Her advice quite simply was to “Just Be”. When you are at school, just be a teacher. When you are with your kids, just be a mom. When you are working on a project, just be a colleague. When you are visiting your parents, just be a daughter. When you are working on your masters class, just be a student. Don’t let the other aspects of your life interfere with the time you need to focus on the other. Schedule this time in your day so that you can accomplish what needs to be done. Of course, sometimes life happens and schedules do change and those become the times we need to give ourselves permission to “just be” OK with knowing that we are doing the best we can, at that particular moment in time.

    Balance is not easy and the ability to “just be” is a struggle every day for me. But it is also something that everyday is in my head as I am constantly thinking about it – it is of importance to me. We all need to find out what works best for ourselves. I hope you find yours. Good luck with the journey.

    Take good care of yourself, Jamie!


  13. lewisv Says:

    Hi Jamie,

    From a career development perspective, I believe balance is the key to a healthy and satisfying life/career. That being said, I believe ‘balance’ does not always happen on a day-to-day basis, but is important to achieve over a stretch of time. The concept of ‘balance’ can mean very different things to different people. I think the key is to do some self-reflecting and determine what it means for you. The fact that you are already reflecting on your involvements, prioritizing your commitments, and accepting that it is OK to let a few things go, is a great start to achieving balance in your life. In my opinion, I think it is important to try to be ‘present’ and ‘in the moment’ whatever it is you are doing.

    Take care of yourself, Jamie.

    PS…I LOVE the way you have designed your blog.

  14. […] of thought into the open and honest reflections of a fellow classmate in a blog post titled “Perspective and Balance” which sheds some insight into how a ‘forced leave’ due to medical issues was what was needed […]

  15. ktenkely Says:

    Yikes! Hard to balance so much…I am in same boat of reflecting on what I can reasonably handle and prioritize what I really need to be focused on. It isn’t easy! Good luck to you and remember to take time for yourself often!

  16. […] I read this point, I thought of @fiteach’s blog post about Perspective and Balance.  We are in a profession that is demanding (Please note @shareski, that I did not use the term […]

  17. […] I read this point, I thought of @fiteach’s blog post about Perspective and Balance.  We are in a profession that is demanding (Please note @shareski, that I did not use the term […]

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