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Each day, I would get that dreaded, daily, routine question from a colleague, “How are you doing today?” And without hesitation, I would muster up a smile, say “fine,” and if I am really feeling myself, I’d add a clever anecdote or synopsis of my weekend. Boom. I have no issues or problems, I am a picture perfect teacher, see (insert fake smile here). I, too, would ask the same question mindlessly of others and not even process the response. Day after day, this continued until I made up my mind one day, to be honest with myself and everyone else.
One day very recently, a former colleague asked me how I was and my immediate response was tears. Silent tears. The kind that indicates you cannot even verbalize the pain, you just need the space to let them fall. My colleague immediately placed her hand on my shoulder and began to pray, then left me in the room alone. Within that powerful exchange, I had silently confessed to her that I was not the Superwoman I pretended to be.
I regrouped and found that colleague later, making the decision to unknowingly empower myself ( with her permission, of course) by telling her my story, letting her know my frustrations and challenges. I had to trust someone and life literally pushed me into her space.
I confided in her that I was tired. I was tired of my students being numbers and test scores. I was tired of data (that word literally gives me PTSD-like symptoms). I was tired of not receiving support with behavior or having interventions that took so long they were no longer effective. I was tired of seeing students being mislabeled, misplaced, and misunderstood. I was tired of being evaluated with nothing positive to walk away with because good is never enough. I was tired of team members who smiled in my face and talked about me to administration every chance they got. I was tired of administrators only coming in to evaluate me for a small window of time but never seeing the fights I diffused, the tears I wiped, the pep talks I gave, and the parental conflicts I thwarted before they even got involved. I was beyond tired of the pressure of being the only African-American teacher (or one of two if I was lucky) in the building no matter what district I worked in. I was exhausted from “playing the game,” being silent to keep from being the “angry Black woman,” the troublemaker, the hostile one, too cultural, and too much. I was tired of the never-ending protocol and paperwork; documentation, numerous, never-ending Google docs for one thing or another. I used to painfully joke that I “needed a Google doc to keep up with the Google docs.”
I was miserable, stressed, overwhelmed, feeling like a failure daily, literally not wanting to crawl out of bed and come to work in the morning. I would sit in the parking lot daily and cry in my car either before or after school. I was wondering daily if I was doing my students any good at all, and if I indeed was the best teacher for the job (since I was always replaced by someone who didn’t look like me eventually anyway-gotta love not being tenured). My body was breaking out into painful boils under my skin, I was not sleeping at night, my eating habits were poor, I was gaining more weight, and I didn’t feel connected at all to the very family I lived in the same home with. For the first time in my life, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and basically, was burned out and no longer myself.I gave my testimony on social media and found out I was not alone. Click To Tweet
One of my main barriers to my journey to self-care was holding on to my testimony. My struggles and my trials are not just for my growth and development, it is my duty to share. Teachers are competitive by nature and yours truly was at the top of the list! For years, I smiled when I wanted to cry, I conceded when I needed to stand up, and I silently watched my own physical and mental health deteriorate-all in the name of saving face and being a “Superteacher.”
I am now on a new journey. I am committed to telling my truth in order to heal myself, my colleagues, and my students. I am starting by sharing this testimony with all of you. What I’ve learned is that sharing your journey is not “telling your business,” or complaining. Sharing your testimony is verbal confirmation, affirmation, and empowerment for others just like you. As educators, we must learn to share our experiences in a way that evokes empathy and evolution. Who will you share your testimonies with? Who will you empower?
For the past 14 years, Anleeta Eaton-Buchanan has been a paraprofessional, an elementary educator, LBS1, co-teacher, and math interventionist. In her role as Founder and Lead Mentor of R.I.G.H.T Mentoring, she is a motivational speaker and youth volunteer. Most recently, she has made the switch from #suburbstoCPS. You can follow her imperfect testimony on IG @WrappedinEducation and her organization @ RIGHT_Mentoring.