Hats Off to Teachers: A New Kind of Stress

 

 

 
 
 
 
These dads are appreciating
teachers more than ever… 

Is it just my Facebook feed (because I am a retired teacher) or is everyone’s lighting up during this time of #stayhome #staysafe homeschooling with parents expressing the admiration for teachers and their frustration with homeschooling?  I sure get a giggle out of them. 

 
 
This was one of the first memes
I saw back in March 2020 when
many schools first closed.

 

 

I feel like it’s time to really take a close examination of the state of teaching in our country. I have a special interest in helping the teaching profession flourish.  After 32 years of teaching, a job I loved and gave everything I could: my time, my money, and my heart.  In the end, I found that I sacrificed too much of myself, taking from my physical and mental well-being and impacting my family. I developed Fibromyalgia due impart to the stress of the job and had to leave before I had intended because I just couldn’t give my students the quality of teaching they deserve. I would like to ask that our society looks at what we’re expecting from our teachers and what we’re giving them in recompense.
 
 
Many will mention the pay disparity between teachers who have Master+ degrees with CEUs (Continuing Education Units), college classes, and professional development training and similarly-educated professions.  My husband and I started our professions around the same time in the late 1980s.  He had a wildlife management BS degree, and I had a double-major BA with my Michigan teaching certificate. We started out with similar salaries; he was maybe $5,000 or so ahead. I remember comparing our salaries about 15 years in and I was then earning about $15,000 less than he was.  By the time he and I retired, he was making at least $30,000 more than me! I’ll give him that he had ongoing training courses during those years, but so did I. He also had five weeks of vacation and never, never had work he had to do at home. 
 
 
 
Seriously, none of us would have the livelihood we have without the guided learning we have had from teachers.  This is part of the problem. The fact that we’ve all been students at some point in our lives makes everyone feel like they already know what it means to teach.  From our memories, it looks like a pretty cake job.  Teachers only work kid-hours- 7 hours Monday through Friday with sweet time off throughout the school year for vacations and then, of course, the mother of vacation, SUMMER BREAK!
 
And while teachers would not pass up a decent pay raise to mirror the level of education that they are required to have, most would probably say that they just want to do their jobs without all the extra stresses that have been piled on by ever-tightening budgets, unrealistic expectations, non-educators making uninformed decisions for what school should be, and the overall loss of respect for the profession in our country.
 
While schools are physically closed and are working on delivering some virtual learning, many of us are realizing that teaching is much more than the time spent with students.  It becomes very obvious that while students are present, teachers aren’t doing planning, grading, further learning, etc. What might not be understood is the many hats a teacher is expected to have: counselor, social worker, curriculum creator, psychologist, doctor, parent, trainer, newsletter writer, fundraiser, social planner, janitor, room designer, purchaser of needed materials for students and the classroom, life-skills developer, detective, scientist, accountants, etc. Teachers are expected to fill in the gap for the underfunded program demands.
 
 
I have a teacher friend who helped create the online curriculum for her grade-level.  She has three at home she’s helping to homeschool with the online lessons their teachers are providing.  She’s helping fellow teachers with their tech questions.  She’s spending time connecting with students individually to help them with what they need. In the first weeks of distance-teaching, she’s feeling the stress more than when she was in class. Another teacher friend spent 20 hours working to get a hold of each of her students to make sure they knew how to access and use the learning opportunities she’s creating.
 
But teachers do this trade because they love supporting and nurturing their students. In my experience, teachers have the highest expectations for themselves. In a recent Facebook post that’s now gone viral, one parent shows the love and connection between teacher and student.
 
 
 
 
 
And so, I ask that if you know a teacher, send a positive word.  And then, after this pandemic is passed, let’s show our appreciation to those who nurture our countries most precious commodity.  As we have learned through this time, our children are not programmable.  They need more than a screen and access to information to grow into caring, intelligent, creative, problem-solving humans. And parents need partners in this endeavor. That is what teachers do. Let’s give them the support they need and deserve.
 
 
 
Do you have any teacher stories you would like to share? In what ways do you think this time will impact education? Educators, I’d like to get some personal stories.  If you are willing, I have a survey you can fill out as much or as little as you’d like: Teacher Stress Survey

Thank you for visiting my blog. I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays.   However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes  I have to listen to my body and am not able to follow through as planned. Thank you for your understanding.

In celebration for moving to the next level with a new website, I am giving away a free eBook that I created on Massage and Myofacial Release.

Click on link below to get a download of my free new eBook (available through 11/1/2020)

Will We Ever Return to Normal?


In this Twilight-zone-world we’re living in,
getting a stylish face mask is a thing.


When I actually think about what’s happening in the world, I get a disoriented feeling, like we’re stuck in an episode of The Twilight Zone. 

    Returning to Normal

    Our loon returned to the lake we live on a few weeks ago.  This is a sure sign that summer is coming.  I say “our” because he returns year after year.  He comes before his mate to prepare the nest.  She’s not here yet, but I suspect she will be soon.  Unfortunately, the weather this week is cool with even some snowflakes still falling. The lake is fully thawed, though, and today I got to see him outside my dining room window as he dove down into the cold water for his meal. At night, especially if we can have the window open, we listen to his beautiful loon calls. 

    He has no idea that the world around him is different.  That the people are shut up in their homes. That the fishing boats (motorized that is) will not be bugging him for at least another 17 days per the shelter-in-place order that was made last week by our Michigan governor. No, he had no idea that there’s a deadly virus that has brought our lives to a screeching halt. For him, life continues on and he has to prepare the nest so that he and his mate can make a home in which they will raise their nestlings (hopefully at least two) before leaving again in late September.
    We, however, have no hope of returning to our normal any time very soon.  Our strict shelter-in-place order is until the end of April, but some are saying that the worst of the outbreak won’t hit Michigan until early May.  And even when the stay-at-home order is lifted, normalcy will be a long-time-coming and probably, never again.
    When we first started hearing about
    “The Corona Virus” from our leaders,
    statements like “We’ve got this under control”
    never made me think we’d be at 586,057 confirmed
    cases in the USA with 23,604 deaths and 43,637 recovered
    as of 4/13/20.


    Understating Facts 

    I’m not going to mince words. I do not respect in any way our current president.  It’s not a political thing (although, I confess I lean liberal). It’s a person-thing.  I believe nothing he says.  His conduct during this pandemic has been dangerous and misleading from the start.  We now find out that he was formally informed as early as January 3rd that COVID-19 would make its way into the USA.  Then, late January, members of his own cabinet sent memos stating, “…coronavirus had the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans and derail the US economy unless tough action was taken immediately…”-New York Times. 
    On January 30th at a Michigan Rally, Trump says, We think we have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five — and those people are all recuperating successfully. But we’re working very closely with China and other countries, and we think it’s going to have a very good ending for us … that I can assure you.” Saying this is an understatement is in itself an egregious understatement.
    As we celebrated the New Year, your average American had no idea what was on its way and just how this would bring us all into a real “Twilight Zone” of nothing makes sense. I could list on and on, even to this day, the understatements, incorrect information, or out-right lies our president has said about the state of COVID-19 in our country. 
    Luckily, other people in authority (mostly our governors) have taken the lead on keeping the people as safe as they are able. 

    One treasure we have in Michigan
    is our state parks. We can still
    visit many of them as long as we
    maintain our social distancing protocols.
    Lake Michigan and the sand dunes on a sunny day
    this past week provided a much-needed reprieve. 

    Social Distancing to Flatten the Curve

    On March 13th in Michigan, Governor Whitmer closed all schools. For me, this is when I really understood that this was serious. The initial timeline was to close them for 3-weeks.  As time went on and Detroit became one of the cities with the highest number of people infected, it was apparent that things were only ramping up.  On April 2nd, Whitmer closed the schools for the rest of the year.  
    I have not left my home area to go to a store or anything (except one aborted medical lab visit for a blood draw due to it being closed) since March 13th. My husband has done all the out in the world errands.  He found two N95 masks in his work closet.  He had bought them four years ago when he was sanding and painting the walls and ceiling of our newly built home. While he jokes that he’s just into a few of the risk categories (about to turn 60, had a heart attack 20 years ago, and slight signs of asthma that is being monitored by his doctor), I’m thankful that he has that mask and is wearing it whenever he goes out.
    “From Day 0 to Day 12, the U.S. was in a period of 
    dramatic growth in cases, marked by a consistently high day-over-day growth in cases, exceeding 1.35x per day. Beginning only days after implementing extreme social distancing, we began to see a dramatic decline 
    in the daily growth in both cases! 
    Most importantly, we also see this trend 
    in the mortality figures!” 

    The reports are showing that the #stayhome #staysafe #savelives protocol is working.  I truly understand I have an ideal situation where I am to hunker down (wooded trails in our community’s property and a lake out front).  However, we each have a role to play here and now. We each can contribute to the outcome of this horrendous event. Let us be strong. Let us be smart. Let us save lives.

    This was the last time that
    we got together normally. Now,
    we Zoom nearly every day.
    It just isn’t the same.

    Stressing the Good

    My concern right now is the impact this time has on our little ones.  It’s confusing.  My granddaughter had loved going to preschool, making good friends, and learning a lot from her talented teachers. She hung out at our house two days a week while her mom worked. All of that is has stopped for now.
    She lives for holidays of any sort and two of the biggest for her, Easter and her 5th birthday, were this week. Usually, we have a big Easter egg hunt outside at our house. For her birthday, we have a large gathering, decorating the house in fairies, or trolls, kitties, or mermaids-whatever her chosen theme. But, we had to cancel it for now.
    So, her mom and dad did an awesome egg hunt at their apartment and then took her to Hoffmaster State park (the photo above is from that day.) The night before her birthday, they blew up all sorts of balloons and sneaked them into her bedroom for her to see when she woke up. We zoomed as she opened presents. We played a fun charades game, too. 

    We are determined to help her through this time.  Her mom has OCD and has gone through a lot of therapy to get to a place where she’s not washing her hands a million times a day and constantly cleaning. So, this virus is truly her scariest dream coming into reality.  She’s doing her best to keep her demons at bay and not let it affect her family.

    The other day, when my son had the morning off from working as a service manager at a local grocery store, they went outside to play.  They sent me this encouraging photo.  I’m sure everyone who walked past it that day felt a surge of hope. 
    We do. We got this.
    Not that we can
    control the virus that is taking
    so many lives, but we can
    and will get through this time-together.


    Celebrating

    And so, I’m taking this time to celebrate the good and beauty in this world.  We humans sure can make a mess of things, but we also really can bring so much wonder and love.  I am choosing to focus on that because what we focus on grows. 
    This morning as I did the LovingKindness meditation (click live-link for the audio) from the MBSR (Mindfullybased Stress Reduction) Meditation course through palousemindfulness.com, I decided to send lovingkindness to President Trump.  “May you be healthy, happy, and whole. May you be safe, protected, and free from harm. May you be alive, joyful, and have inner peace.”

    What are you focusing on during this time? What are you bringing to fruition through your thought and action focus? What will we bring forth out of this Twilight-zone?

    This post is thanks to A Chronic Voice link-up. This month, the topics were returning, understating, distancing, stressing, and celebrating. Each writer takes the given topics and gives them their own spin. Check out these wonderful writers at April 2020 Linkup (scroll past the prompts to find the linked up posts).



    Thank you for visiting my blog today. 
    I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays.  
    However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes 
    I have to listen to my body and am not able
    to follow through as planned. 
    Thank you for your understanding.

    Times They Are a-Changin’

    A lotus flower begins growing at the bottom of a muddy, murky pool, and slowly emerges toward the surface, bursting out of the water into a beautiful blossom. During the night the lotus closes and sinks under the water, and emerges again with the sunlight of a new day. As the lotus flower emerges from the mud, and up toward the surface it is completely unstained.

    Bob Dylan was right. The times are continually changing whether small or major.  Change is a part of life.  However, change, whether good or bad, brings a certain amount of stress, and that stress can bring on a flair for those of us with chronic conditions such as Fibromyalgia.

    Since November of last year, it’s felt like one pretty big change after another in my family: changes in health, changes in jobs, changes in homes.  My first reaction tends to be a pulling back, in my mind and body.  I stiffen, literally, as if to strengthen or to push back on the change. This can lead then to tension in my shoulders and chest which triggers in me a sense of anxiousness.

    What I’m purposefully working on is leaning in.  Leaning into the change like a trust fall.  Breathing and being present in this moment, reminding myself that I’m safe, secure, and supported.  That my family, we are in this together, and we’ll all be all right as long as we stick together.  This means that we share at a deep level, knowing that we can make it through anything.

    This is bringing a new perspective to change.  Change that at first seems like a disaster, turns out to be just the kick in the butt that was needed to move to the next level in our lives. It ends up being a major blessing.  The prospect of change is now exciting and full of potential, making me open up my imagination for what I can create out of this next part of my life.



    As the daughter of a mom with bipolar/schizophrenia, I heard again and again that just as things were going good, it would turn and storms would come. She would tell me that if things get really good, then prepare for them to get equal parts horrible.  At that tender age, I took that as a life lesson that has kept me on my toes, waiting for the anvil to fall at any moment.  However, now I realize that this was her reality, one which she really didn’t understand.  She’d fly high for a time and then crash.  It was what she understood to be the way of life.  I’m just now realizing that I had this underlying belief coloring my entire life.

    This last week, I went on a vacation that I was hesitant to take.  It was coming at a time of major change for my children, and I felt that I needed to be around to help them through.  I didn’t think I could enjoy the time away.  Right up to the night before we left, I was tensing up, bracing for the worst.  I only went because my husband really felt we needed to go (and we’d already committed to the condo with my brother and sister-in-law).

    After the November 2016 fire ripped through
    Gatlinburg and Anakeesta Theme Park,
    the community came together to rebuild
    this favorite tourist attraction. 
    When we visited the fall of 2019, we could still
    see scars of the fire but they didn’t compare
    to the new beauty that was present.

    The time away was so good.  We went to a place we’d never been to- Gatlinburg, TN. My brother-in-law chose our destination.  It’s not a place that Kelley and I would normally visit.  But, I think, it was just what I needed to let go, getting a bit wild and silly.  My sister-in-law is one of the most caring, real, and hilarious people I know.  We did things that neither of us would have normally, but with the four of us, we did.  Tonya conquered her fear of heights by walking among the tops of the mountains over a glass, swaying bridge. I tried moonshine-nearly all 13! To conclude our week, she and I each got a symbolic tattoo.  It is Tonya’s first.  She remembered her mom, gone 15 years now, with a Rose-of-Sharon and her mom’s signature copied exactly from the note her mom had written to her 40 years ago.

    I got a lotus on my inner left arm.  It’s something I will see often reminding me that I am strong and have come out again and again to show my beauty. I’m reborn daily.  Daily I am changing.


    This last week, I didn’t take any pain medication.  I was able to get up in the morning and be alert and active all day (with a bit of a rest in the afternoon between activities). My symptoms from the Fibro are there but much more in the background. I’m feeling like I can be recreated, just like the lotus, each day is a brand new start. Times of change are times of celebration, growth, potential to recreate my self.  I’m choosing to lean in and enjoy!

    4/10/20 Update: Due to COVID-19, Akaneesta Park is closed until the #stayhome #staysafe orders have lifted.  They working on even more additions and improvements this year. To say that our world is facing enormous change from this pandemic is an understatement.  But, I have faith, that we will come out the better and stronger.  Mother Earth has given us the kick in the butt we need to make substantial changes to how we treat both her and each other.

    Are you open to change?  Do you balk at it? What have you learned from the changes in your life?

    Thank you for visiting my blog today. 
    I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays.  
    However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes 
    I have to listen to my body and am not able to follow through as planned. 
    Thank you for your understanding.


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    The Danger of Distraction: Turning Toward Pain to Eliminate Suffering

     
     
     
     
     
    As we are all hunkered down at home, figuring out what to do with all our extra, unstructured time has been a hot topic.  Posts share activities to do alone, with our children, with others outside of our walls via technology tools such as Zoom (live meditation, book club, or family talk sessions), YouTube (online Tai Chi, house concerts, book readings), and Board Game Arena (where you can play board games online with people all over the world). 
     
    I have friends posting the latest puzzle they’ve completed, new drinks they concocted with special COVID-19 satirical names, socks they’ve knitted, and latest movie marathon or binge-worthy show they have found.
     
     
    While all of these things are wonderful, and I am so thankful to have so many options for how to spend my days while at home, I have come also to understand that it can be detrimental as well. I’m sure I’m not alone when I share that I’ve been feeling emotional pain (anxiety and sadness) along with physical pain-Fibromyalgia muscle and joint pain all over my body that flares up in roving areas throughout the day. When I experience pain, my goal is to always get rid of it.  I see it as bad and not a feeling I want around.  If I can be distracted from it, I chose that.
     

    Distraction from Pain Doesn’t Heal Pain

     
     
    If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve been taking an online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) meditation course through palousemindfulness.com. (To get a background for what I’m doing, check out this post Mind Over Matter: 21 Days of Meditation.) During week 5, I was introduced to a woman who has had a lifetime of severe pain (physical and mental), Vidyamala Burch, who has created a mindfulness program to live well with pain. She explains in her book Living Well With Pain and Illness, “When you bring awareness and curiosity to the actual experience of pain, often you find that it’s not as bad as you feared.”
     
    The focus of my last two weeks has been to use meditation when I’m not feeling well (physical pain or emotional pain) to then TURN TOWARDS pain. I also just finished reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@#!$ by Mark Mason which hammered in the same premise. “In every case, we can choose to avoid our pain or choose to engage our pain. When we avoid our pain, we suffer. When we engage our pain, we grow,” states Mason in his blog post My Life Philosophy.
     
    “We suffer for the simple reason that suffering 
    is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent 
    for inspiring change.” –Mark Manson 

     

     
    During my studies this past week, I was introduced to the idea of the Felt Sense which is a concept that describes internal bodily awareness that arises from increased awareness.  Basically, it is a turning towards the sensations in our body (often difficult to describe) to bring them to consciousness.  Manson suggests, “We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change.”
     
      
     
    Much like the Disney movie Wall-e shows, if we were always content with no problems or pain, we’d also become complacent. With pain and need, comes innovation and solution. I’m sure if I had not developed Fibromyalgia, for example, I would not be here writing, researching, digging into knowing more about what makes me tick. I was pretty content to ignore myself.  But my ‘self’ wasn’t having any of that. The poem, The Felt Sense Prayer, concretely illustrates how the human mind and body work together not only to protect us but to grow us.
    It’s a longer read, but so worth it.
     
    Tara Brach, Psychologist, Author, Teacher, 
    reads this poem and shares how she 
    came to turn towards her own pain. 
     
    Manson contends, “Like physical pain, our psychological pain is an indication of something out of equilibrium, some limitation that has been exceeded.” If we then focus into that pain, becoming aware it’s there, we are then able to come back to balance.  
     
    Burch has created a 5-Step process to turn towards our pain so that we can live FULLY. “… the only authentic and sustainable way to be fully alive is to be open to all life’s moments, not just the ones I prefer,” she explains.  This life is short; I want to live as fully and as authentically as possible.  My years of ignoring, blocking, and last year this time, drowning in pain, has brought about a sense of discord between my body and mind.  These past three weeks of consciously turning toward pain (emotional and physical), I am noticing a sense of ease and balance blossoming within. 
     
     
     

    Step One: Awareness

     

    Meditation is just taking time to focus inward. For me, I focus on the feel of my breath coming in through my nostrils, down my windpipe, and into my diaphragm like a cool, silky ribbon.  Then, at the turning point of exhaling, I follow it’s warmth in reverse; inevitably, my body releases a bit more into the bed, mat, chair as I do this. Getting distracted is natural. Burch explains, “You’ll probably find yourself caught up in distractions hundreds of times a day, but choosing awareness even once is a victory, no matter how fleeting that moment may be.” So, I’ve learned not to criticize myself for having a monkey-brain, but to notice and celebrate when I realize I’m off my focus point and come back to it. 

     

     

    Step Two: Turn Toward the Pain


    This is the time when I pick out one thing to focus on. Maybe the aching, burning pain deep in my left thigh or the tight, weighted feeling in my chest that shows up when I’m anxious. As I continue breathing, I focus on the feeling, imagining the breath to reach right there.  I may even put my hand on the main area. And then, I work to notice the sensation, being as descriptive as possible: burning, aching, sharp, sadness, loneliness, etc.  My meditation teacher, Dave Potter, says to say “I notice that there’s something in me that has the feeling……” This wording allows me not to identify myself as this difficult feeling but to acknowledge that it is there.  I notice the area, size, shape, and texture of the sensation.  Sometimes it is thin and blanket-like, resting almost overtop of me. Other times, it seems to be rounded and blobby, thick as a donut. It can be sharp and hard or dull and wooden or elastic and ropey. I notice my feelings about this sensation. At this point, I work to soften my approach to it; allowing it to be.  Treating it and myself as I would a child who was hurt, being gentle and loving.

    Step Three: Seeking the Pleasant


    Breathing into the difficult sensations, accepting them as they are, I begin to notice minute changes in the feelings. Then, I begin to scan my body.  Starting at my toes and slowly scanning to the top of my head, I search for a pleasant sensation. At first, I really didn’t get this. I have pain all the time in nearly every part of my body. However, with practice, I’ve gotten better at noticing the little pleasant tingle in my earlobe, or the buttery softness of the blanket that’s covering me. This is not a distraction of positivity as Burch explains, “This attitude of sensitivity, openness, and honesty to the whole of your experience, including your pain, now allows you to gently turn to the pleasant aspects of the moment that have been there all along, just outside your field of awareness. You can feel stable and whole, rather than grasping for pleasure to avoid your pain.”

     

     

     

    Step Four: Broadening Focus to Develop Equanimity


    At this point, after about twenty or more minutes in the above three stages, I spread my focus to encompass my whole body (noticing the pleasant and difficult sensation is still there).  Widening out, much like you do when you zoom out in Google Maps.  Focusing then on the room I’m in, still noticing my body’s sensations, then widening out to the neighborhood, town, and world.  This seemed like a hoaky part of the turn towards meditation; however, I’m beginning to understand and assimilate that this is the time I realize I’m not alone in this.  I am reminded that pain is a part of the human experience. This leads to acceptance and non-judgment of my situation (equanimity).

    Step Five: Learning to Respond Rather Than Reacting


    I can choose my response to whatever difficult feelings I’m experiencing.  I can choose to accept and soften into it, being loving and gentle with myself. “Rather than feeling your pain is right on top of you and you’re trapped in a battle that leaves no space to choose your response, you can find ways to respond creatively to any circumstances with a soft and pliant heart,” teaches Brach.
    This is not magic.  It takes practice, over and over.  I’ll notice, hey my throat feels tight and achy.  When that happens, taking time to Turn Towards right then, makes this a choice that gets easier and easier. And as I am finding, more effective each time. 

     


    Vidyamala Burch explains how she’s learned to manage her own pain through meditation and breathwork. (21 minutes) 

     

     

    Helpful Resources:

     

     

     


    How do you handle difficult feelings/sensations? What do you think of Vidyamal’s method of turning towards pain to live more fully?

    Thank you for visiting my blog. I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays.   However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes  I have to listen to my body and am not able to follow through as planned. Thank you for your understanding.

    In celebration for moving to the next level with a new website, I am giving away a free eBook that I created on Massage and Myofacial Release.

    Click on link below to get a download of my free new eBook (available through 11/1/2020)