For those who work in education, March is frequently referred to as the doldrums of the school year. It’s the month of gray, fighting to decide if it’s winter or spring. There are little to no days off, and it marks an odd in-between time in the school calendar. I felt it as a student and as a student teacher, and now I’m feeling it as a Fellow.
I can remember sitting at my desk in Mrs. Gothier’s first grade class at St. Rose of Lima. It was a drizzly day, and we were discussing how that year March came in like a lion and was going out like a lamb. We were nearing the end of the month, and I was so upset it was almost over. Sure, there weren’t many holidays, and the weather was kind of gross, and I had to do standardized testing. But at the end of every school day, I got to read silently for fifteen whole minutes as a part of the Read Across America initiative. As a seven-year-old who was very invested in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, this was a coveted piece of time. March may have been bleak, but that time carved into our school day for me to read made everything come up roses as far as I was concerned.
As a 24-year-old Fellow at Hill Freedman World Academy, 15 minutes during the day for me often feels like “too much.” Too much time away from students, too much time away from programming, too much being selfish. It always comes back to feeling selfish. Even when I am drained, and when I can feel the tears welling in my eyes. Taking a break never truly feels like an option.
Sometimes education work can feel like trying to catch rain water in your hands. A few drops pool in your palms, but a lot of what you’re trying to save slips through the cracks. There are big goals and dreams that I have: for students, for my personal growth, and for the whole practice of education in the school district of Philadelphia. And there are days when those dreams and goals are tangible. I see acceptances, I’m given an incredible piece of writing to read, someone commends my personal philosophies. But there are also hard days. Days when my students frustrate me, days when I question my existence in this educational landscape, and days where it feels like others don’t see the value in my time, work, or presence. And that’s enough to break me down. It is in those moments that I am reminded of the importance of self-care and self-advocacy.
In any given education prep program, I can guarantee there will be an extensive unit on student advocacy. It is explained that, as an educator, you play the very important role of student advocate. You are able to see the needs of a student better than they may be able to express (for any number of reasons). For instance: You notice a student often becomes agitated when asked to work independently, ultimately disengaging and not accomplishing anything. As their teacher, it is up to you to remedy said situation. You advocate for that student by providing accommodations, such as an extended time frame for completion, allowing the student to take frequent brain breaks, or making modifications to the assignment so the student is more readily able to tackle material. This facilitates the student accomplishing their work and reaching their goals and ultimately fulfills your goal of getting the student to complete assignments and comprehend the material. Makes sense, right? But applying that same common sense logic to yourself as an adult in a professional setting doesn’t feel as “right” or “easy.” But it is equally as important and vital to a person’s well-being and overall success in their career.
Something that I’m absolutely learning to do is offer myself the same grace I offer to others and especially my students. There have been many times this year that I have felt overwhelmed. These were not new feelings, but this was the first time I felt like I didn’t have an outlet. As a student teacher, there were days I was up at 4:15 to finish a lesson, and not in bed until two the following morning working on an assignment. I felt those feelings then, too. But I was still a student. I reaped the benefit of having a cooperating teacher being able to recognize where and when I was beginning to falter. Telling me to slow down and take a break. I don’t have that luxury now. I have learned that self-care is crucial. But I have also learned that while I advocate for students each and every day, I sometimes lose my own voice and forget to advocate for me. I haven’t quite figured out the equation. And I might not by the end of my time with 12 Plus. It’s a balancing act, and sometimes I fall. It’s a constant learning curve, but being able to recognize and vocalize my own needs is something I’m getting better at. When it comes down to it, my students keep me afloat. I know that I need to be at my best to serve and support them effectively. I can’t do that without minding myself.
We’ve made it through the doldrums. With spring approaching, college acceptances rolling in, and the graduation of Hill Freedman’s first ever senior class on the horizon it’s nice to take a deep breath with the realization that my work matters, and that I’m doing just fine.