About Tracie Happel

Ms. Happel has been teaching for 25 years, specializing in special education/deaf and hard of hearing students and students with specific learning disabilities. She has also worked with regular education students at the elementary level. Ms. Happel worked for three years as a governor-appointed education commissioner, bringing the most pressing and recent research in national education to state stakeholders. When not working hard to inspire and educate her students, or collaborate closely with colleagues, Ms. Happel trains for and races in Ironman triathlons. She has two beautiful children who are beginning their lives as young adults in college, and in mission work. Ms. Happel is available for consultation services and presentations on a variety of educational topics. She can be contacted at traciehappel@gmail.com.

Imagine this. You work 60 hours a week as a teacher, full-time parent, and devoted spouse. You spend your nights grading papers, checking your kid’s homework and making sure your spouse is ready for their day at work. You operate like this for close to a decade until you come home and like a “smack in the face” your otherwise devoted spouse says that they are moving out and want a divorce. With your head spinning you try to figure out what this means, but quickly you’re served divorce papers, notices for custody hearings, and now your evenings resemble a scene from a horror movie with lots of crying and figuring out how you’re going to make it the next day at school. 

Does this sound familiar? If you’re a teacher who’s been through a divorce… probably so.

According to Business Insider,  teachers actually have a low rate of divorce, maybe 12-15% depending on the grade level you teach. However, if you find yourself in the percentage that’s experiencing a divorce while in the classroom, life stands still pretty quickly. By nature,  teachers tend to be empathic, caregivers, putting others before ourselves. As adults facing divorce, whether it’s forced on you or if you initiate, the tables are suddenly turned and we need to lean on others, we need people to take care of us, and we need put ourselves first. But how do we do that? How do we change our perspective so quickly, and under such dire circumstances?

Divorce can happen suddenly, maybe one day your spouse comes to you and announces plans to leave. You are left feeling sucker-punched and bewildered. Or, maybe you and your spouse have been working on your marriage for a while but in the end, you’ve decided divorce is that answer. In either case, emotions are very raw, life suddenly becomes sharp and chaotic, and your focus is off. It’s hard to wake up in the morning, it’s even harder to face a room full of children, expecting you to be your same self. How do you fake it when your life is falling apart? Everything you were sure of is no longer a sure thing. But there are those faces of the children you teach who are expectant, energetic, and want you to be their rock like you always are.

Having just faced all these emotions, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to maintain my professionalism, and my sanity- all while going through a divorce. One thing that surprisedly helped was sleep. I woke up, dragged myself out of bed, went to work, did the best I could each day, and came home to handle my responsibilities there, but then went to bed as soon as absolutely possible. This was my routine for a few weeks. No phone calls. No going out. No extra classroom work. Everything was stripped to the basic needs so I could just sleep.

According to Divorce Magazine (2017), sleep is the number one self-care strategy you can do to maintain your outlook, peace of mind, and focus. In addition, the additional top five things you can do to help yourself include:

  1. Sleep
  2. Get out and walk or some kind of exercise.
  3. Honor your sorrow. Cry when you need to. Punch pillows when you need to.
  4. Try hard to eat healthy.
  5. Understand your sorrow, and talk to yourself like you would a friend.

Life becomes almost robotic until your heart and mind are ready to find a new groove. It’s okay! None of the above five are independent of the other four. They are woven tightly together and occur hand in hand. Honor your feelings, yourself, your situation the best you can and when you can. Breaking down in front of your 2nd graders is really not a good idea. If you find yourself wanting to do that more often than not, take some of that sick time you’ve accumulated and collect your thoughts.

If you can control your emotions while at school, let them out in a safe place like your house, out on the trail when you’re out for a walk, or in the pool (it actually is possible to cry and swim at the same time). Also, limit how much you attempt to “eat your feelings”. While that pound of chocolate will feel good going down, it won’t feel good when your pants don’t button anymore. It’s hard enough to afford nice clothes on a teacher salary. It’s worse when it’s because potato chips and cheese burgers dominated our feelings and our pants no longer fit. Eat junk food in moderation, there is science that says they can help temporarily, but be cognizant of how much you’re eating.

In the end, you will be okay- even if your divorce is contentious. Life will be hard for a while, emotions will be raw. But thank goodness you are a teacher…you are empathetic, caring, and put others before yourself. But during this valley in your life, turn those traits to you. Give yourself some empathy, take care of yourself (others can wait), and put yourself first for right now.

 

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