Teachers, You Have Permission to Breathe – You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup

Teachers, You Have Permission to Breathe - You Can't Pour From an Empty Cup

Let’s be honest, prior to the pandemic, we already had so much to do. Each day meant walking into a very long laundry list of responsibilities, stressors, and tasks. We turned in lesson plans, aligned activities to assessments, graded them in a timely manner and recorded and reported student progress. We varied our methods to provide for different learning styles and individual differences. We questioned ourselves: Are my students on target? Am I doing the best job that I can to get them to understanding? Am I doing a good job of balancing our standards and their needs? We maintained communication and relationships with students, parents, and other educators and maximized them for achievement. We ate lunch in 87 seconds flat. We never peed. And we did all of this in a professional environment that demands too much, pays too little, and expects miracles. And we rocked it.

In this unprecedented time of quarantine, we still have all of those same worries and responsibilities, plus an extra layer of pressure that actually multiplies the initial stresses. On top of everything else, we’re now dwelling on factors we cannot control. Do my students have what they need to do their work? Are they safe? Are they doing everything they can to stay healthy? Do they have enough to eat? Are they in loving homes where parents won’t take out their stresses on their children? Are parents or loving guardians even there? Ideas that used to be fleeting thoughts, because we always had them for 8 hours a day, are now all-consuming thoughts because we have zero control over our kids’ daily lives. Suddenly we have the cumulative effect of personal worry, external worry, and pandemic worry. And we have it all at once.

Have you ever seen one of those juggling unicyclists? You know, that guy at the circus who pedals around on a one-wheeled vehicle and throws balls in the air and manages to keep the objects moving without having them crash into his face and without wrecking into the wall? That’s what teaching during this pandemic feels like. Everything is happening all at once, and nothing can drop or crash.

And yet, we’re still putting so much pressure on ourselves right now. Because we are home and actually CAN pee, many of us have bought into the illusion that we now have less to do and more time to do it. We’re trying to juggle all the new and old teaching responsibilities while teaching our own kids and trying to keep everyone healthy. We’re beating ourselves up if we aren’t cooking delicious, healthy, organic lasagna while concurrently Zooming our students through the orders of mathematical operations. We feel guilty if our laundry didn’t get folded because we had to assemble learning packets for students who can’t access the Internet. We’re embarrassed because we haven’t shaved or worked out or begun to write our pacing guide for next year.

If this sounds like you, stop right there, take a deep breath, and read carefully:

You are doing enough. You are doing great actually. Stop feeling guilty. Stop it right now.

We cannot perform any two tasks to maximum capacity at the same time- let alone the dozens of tasks we’ve been forced into thinking that we need to master overnight. Psychologists have already debunked the illusion of multitasking. Yes, it’s been scientifically proven that it is simply not possible for most of us to attend to more than one thing at a time and achieve effective results. So it’s a dangerous misconception to believe we can.


The stress and anxiety associated with this quarantine are bad enough. We simply have to give ourselves the grace to not make it worse by adding the pressure of perfectionism to our load.

You have permission to do what you can do when you can do it and call it “good enough.” You have permission to serve Totino’s Pizza Rolls for every meal and assign the kids a comparison/contrast of the original Lion King cartoon vs. the new live-action version for a lesson in critical thinking. You have permission to not wipe the unidentifiable sticky substance off of the counter right away (actually, you should probably do that because of ants and roaches). You have permission to be mortal, dears.


Also Read:

Teachers, You Have Permission to Breathe - You Can't Pour From an Empty Cup

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Leslie is a super fancy award-winning educator with more than 25 years experience and has taught students at every level from elementary through doctoral. She's tired. Her actual day job with benefits is to serve as the Executive Director of the Leadership Development Institute at Louisiana State University.

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