It’s been a crazy couple of weeks—as life always seems to be—both personally and professionally. In my personal life, my family is in the middle of packing for a move to a new house, my husband’s grandfather passed peacefully away at 94 years young, my mother broke her wrist and thumb (and she was one of the people helping with the move!), and of course, all the things that happen in everyday life as a fifth-grade teacher with an almost five-year-old.
While at lunch, my colleague was sharing how stressed she was feeling. Her 19-year-old daughter was flying solo for the first time to Florida for spring break, and the whole scenario was new and resulted in uncomfortable feelings about the unknown. She looked at me and said, “I shouldn’t complain. I know you have a lot going on.”
People often refer to sharing about our lives as complaining, but instead, it’s our way of connecting and empathizing with one another. Nobody’s “complaining” is any less significant than another person’s. It’s not a competition for whose life is busier, more difficult, or harder at the moment. For that person, it is their life and what they are feeling, and how we handle things differs for each person. I thought about what she said and replied, “Of course you can. Everyone’s plate is a different size.”
Now, I thought I was pretty clever for coming up with that metaphor on the spot although I am certain that I am not the first. But it really resonated with me as I reflected on all that was happening in my life, all that was happening in my colleagues’ lives, and all that was going on in my fifth-grade students’ lives.
Everyone – teachers and students alike – does better when we allow ourselves to take care of one another.
Everyone’s plate is a different size, and that size can change based on the day, the week, or sometimes even the hour, depending on so many uncontrollable factors. What one person—a fellow teacher, a student, a friend, a partner—can handle is only defined by that person. I am amazed at the obstacles students overcome each day. The lives they live outside of school and the strength they demonstrate in school. Some of their plates are far bigger than mine.
I’m also amazed at how we as teachers work to share the plate—the figurative load. That same colleague who had the daughter in Florida, knowing how difficult a day I was having last week as I tried to prepare sub plans to head out for my grandfather-in-law’s funeral, took the initiative to take care of some grade-level necessities, so that I could focus on other pressing matters. And this isn’t an isolated case. My colleagues share my plate. All. The. Time.
March is a hard month for teachers… and students. It’s long, especially after the short month of February. It can be super cold or super warm or super rainy (indoor recess anyone?!). Our plates may shrink this month as we try to juggle all that is life outside of school and in school.
As we navigate this time of the school year, the time when we start to panic because we realize we have passed the 100-day mark and our time left with our students is dwindling, let’s remember to take care of each other and our students.
If your plate is empty, take something off a colleagues’. They will certainly return the favor. For our students, whose plates should never overflow, but so often do, let’s work together as teachers to lessen their load.
Everyone—teachers and students alike—does better when we allow ourselves to take care of one another. Remember, everyone’s plate is a different size, and busy lives, personally and professionally, can sometimes take us by surprise, usually when we are least prepared. But that’s life, and it cannot be controlled. It can only be experienced. So, as we round the corner to spring, be kind to yourself and others. Teaching is so much better when played as a team sport instead of an individual event.