“I’m tired,” I declared at 3 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon.
I had just ushered my students out the door and to the school buses when I turned to a fellow teacher and muttered the words that I usually keep to myself.
“I know what you mean,” she said, “I’m ready to get off my feet.”
I thought about my own feet that were smushed into my memory-foam Sketchers. It would feel good to sit down, sure, but that’s not what I meant when the tiredness hit me like a freight train hours earlier. It wasn’t physical exhaustion, although I have experienced that too. It was something else.
It was this feeling that my mind had stopped processing to an extent. It was this mental block I felt as I attempted to give a lesson or answer a question. I just couldn’t. I was desperate to give my brain a rest.
I caught myself falling into self-loathing. “Why can’t I just deal with it?” “Why can’t I get past this?”
Instead, I gave myself some grace. Instead, I asked myself just why I’d feel this way; and it clicked.
Teachers are the ultimate decision-makers.
I couldn’t think of a single time that day, that week, that I wasn’t making a decision.
There were the questions said out-loud that I was responsible for answering: “Can I borrow a pencil?” “Can I have an extra day to finish?” “Can you send the makeup work to the office?” “Can you call so-and-so’s parents?” “Can you cover my class?” “Can you work at the basketball game?” “Can you do this, grade that, help with this, finish that?”
Even more daunting were the questions never spoken aloud: “Should I ask her if she’s okay? I hope nothing’s going on at home.” “Should I help him more or let him learn from his mistakes?” “Should I finish grading last week’s essays during my planning period or make copies? Will I have time for both?” “Should I review more or move ahead?” The decisions are endless; the choices are relentless.
It’s not just me. According to data collected by busyteacher.org, the average teacher makes 1,500 decisions per day. For those of us who aren’t math teachers, that’s four decisions per minute.
That may be a surprising number to some, but my assumption is that teachers will merely nod their head in agreeance with this number. The results aren’t hard to believe when taken into consideration that teachers are often expected to be a support system for sometimes hundreds of students, a manager of a classroom, an educator, a content creator, and so much more.
In short, we make decisions for not only us but for all of the young people around us. We carry the weight of those decisions. We stress over those decisions after they’re made. Our brain constantly resembles our internet browsers with too many open tabs. Our minds look much like our too-full plates as we attempt to tackle a daily to-do list while simultaneously reacting to adversity at a lightning-fast pace.
I’m a teacher and when I say I’m tired, it’s not because I’ve been on my feet all day or because I’ve had to reorganize the books and desks and other little things. It’s not because I forgot to drink the coffee that I left sitting at my desk. It’s not because I’ve been up and down and up and down from my desk /one hundred times today.
It’s the minute-by-minute decision-making that makes me unbearably tired, but it’s the same decision-making that I believe is my superpower as a leader, a teacher, and a voice for my students. I will give myself some grace as I battle the strain that this process places on me and take comfort in the fact that I’m modeling good-decision making to those in my classroom with young and impressionable minds.