My incredibly sweet, ridiculously silly daughter is turning 5 this week, and I’m taking a personal day off of work to celebrate with her. This year’s celebration will look a little different, of course, but there will still be a lot of cake, some presents, and fond memories of the journey from squishy newborn to today. That will all be the same, pandemic or no.
Also familiar? How difficult it always is to unplug from my job and take a stress-free day off of school.
Part of the issue stems from my first round through LBUSD, back when I was a student. Both of my parents being high school teachers, my brother and I almost never missed a day of school. In fact, when we were in elementary school and had pupil-free days, we actually went to school with my mom, who worked in LAUSD. On Saturdays, we were often with my dad at his school in Lynwood as he coached cross country and track. Add it all up, and I probably managed more than perfect attendance, K-12.
The other part of the equation comes down to how difficult it is for teachers to take time off, generally. It’s a running joke in the profession — or at least it was, pre-COVD — that by the time you’re finished securing a substitute and scripting lesson plans for the day, we’re often left feeling like it would be easier to just come to school sick.
There have been so many times where I have taken planned time off and stayed up late the night before trying to finalize assignments for my students to complete. I’ve lesson-planned from my bed with a fever and I’ve gone to campus early to make copies for my sub before heading to a workshop or training.
It’s never been easy for me to take time off, to cleanly disassociate from my work to focus on myself or the needs of my family. It’s gotten even harder with the increased integration of technology into the classroom, even before the switch to distance learning.
When my parents were teaching, on the extremely rare occasions when they required a sub, they would leave plans on their desks and then have no contact until they returned. In the era before email and cell phones, that was really the only option. If a lesson plan didn’t get done? There’s a reason all of my classmates from my high school Japanese language program have seen the movie "My Neighbor Totoro" at least a half dozen times.
Now, my subs and my students are able to contact me throughout the school day using a variety of methods, with each one sending a notification to my phone, sparking a tiny ripple of panic before I’m able to force my attention back to my day off. Thanks to cloud documents, I can even check to see if my students are working with a few clicks on my phone. I’m able to create and refine lessons from wherever I may be, whether it’s a doctor’s office, my couch, or on a family vacation. It’s hard to sign off because it’s so easy to sign back on.
As teachers, we’re getting frequent reminders from our administrators, our leaders at the district level, and our own loved ones, about the importance of self care. We talk about it with each other, reminding our friends and coworkers to unplug and recharge. But we don’t really talk much about how hard it is to take a night off when we know we’re going to have to make up that time later — the assignments don’t magically get posted to Canvas just because we needed to binge watch "The Floor is Lava" with our kids.
I know, intellectually, that I can’t sit at my computer all day without standing up to stretch. I get nagging alerts on my Apple Watch telling me that I need to move a little bit every hour, and I know that it’s right. But that doesn’t change the fact that I have to let students into my Zoom from the waiting room. So, a few times a day, I wiggle my wrist off-camera to try and trick my watch into thinking I’m standing up.
“Self care is so important,” I tell my coworkers, my students, and any one else who will listen. “So important,” I nod sagely with bags under my eyes, as I anxiously refresh my email again and again.