About Teresa

Teresa Cooper is a 30-something wife, mom and teacher from Havelock, North Carolina. She has a Masters of Science in Education for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment from Walden University and a BA in Psychology with a minor in Creative from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Having struggled with anxiety and depression most of her life and later having birthed a child with autism, she is passionate about spreading awareness and acceptance of mental illness and autism and has been writing for Embracing the Spectrum since 2011. She also writes for The Mighty, The Huffington Post, and The Educator’s Room.

exhausted teacherI’m going to say something controversial. If you have children reading over your shoulder or a perhaps even a sensitive grandma looking on, I’m giving you fair warning. The content of this post might just rock someone’s world, because it’s akin to saying Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Did you clear the room yet? Okay. So, now that it’s just you and me here, I’ll make a confession. Teachers do not possess super-human abilities that make them resistant to feelings; that’s right–we’re human!

As human beings, teachers experience a whole range of emotions that everyone else in the world experiences as well. In fact, when we fail to take care of ourselves, as we often fail to do, our emotions sometimes get all kinds of messed up. Yes. Teachers have feelings.

As scary as it sounds, I’m giving you, my fellow teacher, permission to feel something. We often keep it bottled up because we must during the day. We experience the emotions of hundreds of students a day while keeping our own in check and that’s exhausting, especially when our personal lives often come with challenges that we must keep buried away. What??! Personal lives? Noooo!

With all that teachers deal with everyday, it’s no surprise that in a list of 10 Careers with High Rates of Depression, Health.com listed Teachers 7th on their list. The stress of the job gets higher every year and we feel forced to do more and more with fewer resources. Just today, I felt guilty for not having my work done and told my husband I had been slacking off. He looked at me like I was a crazy person because I had just spent hours working on Sunday, but in my mind, I took Saturday off to spend time with family and I went to bed before midnight on Sunday. I felt like I had taken a break. It’s difficult in a pressure-driven society not to feel unaccomplished, stressed out, and, frankly, hopeless, when you feel like you can never get your job done in time. If that’s how you feel, I can certainly relate. I’ve been there myself. I’ve been there off and on several times.

On top of that, Special Education teachers rarely get acknowledged for what they do and get isolated from their peers. We get extra paperwork, more challenging children, the pleasure of frequently aggravating people because we’re advocating for kids, and then when it comes time for Teacher of the (Fill-in-the-Blank) we can forget about it. We’re in the pocket of the building that no one sees. Unless we’re coaching a sport’s team or running a club, no one knows we exist, but, frankly, ain’t nobody got time for that. So, it’s easy to feel depressed, stressed, and anxious if you’re in this field.

That’s right. I said it. And it’s like this dirty little secret that teachers might suffer from depression or anxiety, but why should anyone really be surprised? Depression isn’t uncommon. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression, the leading cause of disability, affects more than 350 million people worldwide. At its worst, depression can trigger suicide, but fortunately effective treatments for depression exist. Even though, as teachers, we feel we must stay strong for the students we teach and the stigma attached to depression and anxiety feels stronger, we must fight against it for our students.

Speaking as someone who has suffered from major depression and had to stop working for a while because I ignored it for too long, it doesn’t help to pretend you’re okay. Pretending you’re okay works for a while, until you get more stressed, more exhausted, and so deeply depressed you cannot crawl out of bed. Maybe you can fight it if you’ve got a good support system, but if you can’t, you shouldn’t. Contact your insurance company and find a therapist in your area or talk to your doctor about effective treatment options. Your family needs you and, if you’re attempting to stay strong for your students, avoiding treatment doesn’t help them either. If you’re wondering if you may suffer from depression, here are some symptoms:

-you can’t sleep or you sleep too much

-you can’t concentrate or find that previously easy tasks are now difficult

-you feel hopeless and helpless

-you can’t control your negative thoughts, no matter how much you try

-you have lost your appetite or you can’t stop eating

-you are much more irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual

-you’re consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in other reckless behavior

-you have thoughts that life is not worth living (get help immediately if this is the case)

 

If you’re feeling like you may suffer from anxiety, here are the symptoms of anxiety disorder:

-Feeling nervous

-Feeling powerless

-Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom

-Having an increased heart rate

-Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)

-Sweating

-Trembling

-Feeling weak or tired

-Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry

The best thing to do if you’re feeling any of these things is to seek the help of your doctor. If you’re having urgent thoughts of harming yourself, seek immediate help by calling 911.

In the meantime, you can also try making a gratitude list if you’re having difficulty remembering why you got into this profession in the first place. Every day, list 3 things that happened that made you happy or 3 things that went well. You may find this task difficult at first, but start with small things like, “I made it through that lesson!” or “That student smiled at me.” Try to remember why you got into the job in the first place.

But yes, this is important. If you need help, get it. Because maybe no one else knows this secret about your feelings and their existence, but I do, because I have them too.

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