As a student, plowing through assignments was my main mentality. Using sticky notes to track deadlines was my lifeline to good grades. During the height of a semester, I rarely gave myself a break, constantly cycling between school, extracurricular activities, work, eating and sleeping. Student life was a nonstop roller coaster ride, as I clung to my seat to cope with the turbulence.
Transitioning into teaching, I realized how demanding the job was in comparison to student life. Now I was responsible for the young minds under my care. A teacher’s to do list is as bottomless as the ocean, with no end in sight. From assessments to planning lessons, to helping students manage their behaviour and emotional needs, on top of extracurricular activities, our tasks are precariously piled high like a Jenga tower.
Teaching is a tough yet rewarding job. For a while, I viewed myself solely as an educator, nothing else. My worth clung to my job once I started my first full time position a few years earlier because my mind was consumed with education, and how to develop professionally. If I wasn’t performing well, my guilt blanketed me, suffocating my self-esteem. I was preoccupied with completing work rather than how to recuperate after a long day. A 30 minute to an hour prep would zoom by and most days I still did not make a dent. I dragged my work home all the time (I still do), and even my weekends were filled to the brim with prep work.
At the start of the pandemic, I was ending a temporary teaching position after Spring Break. As schools abruptly shut down, I felt disoriented. Now that I was not teaching temporarily, I was at a loss of what to do with myself. The days seemed endless with little to no purpose. Investing my time and energy solely into teaching was not productive for my mental health or my identity. I slowly had to figure out who I was beyond teaching.
Teachers love giving students strategies in all aspects of academic and social emotional learning. I was eager to explore strategies to endure during these unprecedented times. With more free time, I slowly found other ways to help me care for my mental health. Getting lost in a riveting book allowed me to feel present and let my imagination run free. Finding time to journal or write encouraged me to decompress, process and create. I also ran outside about three times each week for some fresh air. Even in a pandemic, connection is vital. Though my introverted self enjoyed basking in isolation, during the lockdown it felt like torture some days. To combat my loneliness, I chatted with my friends online. Other times I visited my family or partner. Some days I even dropped off goodies I baked to cheer up my loved ones. Connecting with my family, friends, and partner was crucial in staying sane. Each of these methods were key in helping me stay balanced and grounded.
This September, I started teaching my class online. Even though a month and a half has passed since I started, it feels like three years. Virtual learning is a completely different feat with its own set of challenges. The amount of social disconnection I see from my students and the struggle to assist them worries me every day. Assessing online student work takes extra steps, particularly when students hand assignments in either incorrectly or blank. The amount of time I spend staring at my screen to mark, prepare lessons, and establish a connection with my students and their families has also affected my physical and mental health.
Once I started teaching again early this Fall, I played around with how to balance self-care and my students. This is a constant process to find what works best for my time and energy. I did not want to revert back to working tirelessly with little time for myself. Currently, I am experimenting with morning routines. Since the weather is starting to look like a snow globe, running outside seemed less appealing. Instead I renewed my gym membership, since there were proper established precautions and measures for COVID. Working out in the morning is my shot of energy and relieves my anxiety. I also try to incorporate some journaling to help ease my mind for the day. These strategies help relieve stress and sharpen my focus for the day’s work.
In teaching, it is common to tackle more work, particularly when we are exhausted. Teachers don’t give themselves enough credit for all they do in a day, especially with our endless task list thrashing our heads. I set time limits for work, choosing to stop at 9:00 PM to allow for some down time and proper sleep. To manage my tasks, I list three high priority tasks, and then any smaller tasks that I can complete when I am finished. Though this is not a fool proof system, this helps me target my goals. If a task is incomplete, I constantly remind myself, what I have completed is enough. When tomorrow arrives, I can pick it up again. Making myself feel guilty is far from productive and only leads me down a path that harms my self-esteem and efficiency.
As important as work can be, we should be cautious in how it consumes our time. In the grand scheme of life, our jobs do not define our existence, even if this is how most of our time is spent. Our jobs should not take precedence over taking care of ourselves, exploring new hobbies, and connecting with our loved ones. Finding ways to destress takes time, so patience is necessary to find what works best. Taking the time to take a break from our work duties, even if it is brief, is crucial to our productivity and our lifestyle. After all, we don’t live to work, we live to thrive.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.