By Amanda Koonlaba
The concept of being both a human and an educator is one I’ve grown increasingly concerned about since I had my first child. I’ve always been focused on my job as an educator. Sometimes, I think people assume I’m nuts for being so driven and passionate. I just know it is part of who I am, and, honestly, I don’t want that part of me to go away because I genuinely like it. I am also a mother, and I like that part of who I am, too. I am no less committed to being an educator since becoming a mom. This has been a source of great confusion for me since I learned last winter to expect another child to be born this month. Thus, one of the main things I did this summer was use my time to reflect on the concepts of being both an educator and a human being.
I gave a lot of thought to what keeps me going because I am very realistic about this profession. I mean, let’s face it, the job is hard. The conclusions I drew about what keeps me going were very large scale. I do what I do as an educator because I believe in what public education can do for the citizens of this country. I believe we are all in this together and should all work to make the world a better place.
I think those ideals are what help me find balance as a human being and educator. I do not want to just live for myself, and I don’t want my children to learn to do so either. So, I must work for others, serve others, and stand up for others. I have to do this even when it is hard—especially when it is hard. The balance is in knowing I am doing what I believe is right for everyone and sharing that with my own children. For me, this is a balance of home, heart, mind, health, faith, and career.
It’s All So Demanding
As I thought about what I wanted to say to other educators at the beginning of the school year, I started to wonder whether anyone else had been able to find this kind of balance. I really do believe most educators want to have a positive impact on the lives of others. However, I questioned the impact of the demands of the profession and the demands of being human, which, let’s face it, are also super hard.
So, I created a survey to ask teachers about the areas in which they needed inspiration for the new school year. There was absolutely nothing scientific about this. I just wrote it and shared it pretty widely on social media in all of my networks (ASCD Emerging Leaders, Delta Kappa Gamma, Badass Teachers Association, etc.). More than 50 percent of the people who responded selected “meeting the demands of the profession” as the area where they needed inspiration. I wasn’t surprised, especially since “demands” could really encompass any aspect of the field.
The comments spoke to me more than the percentage of people who selected that choice. There was more than one comment about students being “more than a test score.” Some talked about feeling like they would never be good enough or able to do what was expected of them. One wrote how he was left with “battle scars” after the last school year. Another said she felt she was expected to be perfect and “do it all” without consideration for her as a human being. Another talked about needing to know it was OK to take care of herself and her family because there is tremendous pressure to put school business first.
But, the comment I truly lost sleep over was this one: “Sometimes, it is hard to realize that we’re not in this alone.”
You Are Not in This Alone
Educators should ever feel like they are alone. The weight of the world does not rest on the shoulders of any one educator. I have to tell myself this every single day. All of the things I said earlier about how I think my big picture ideals help me find balance are very much true. I felt it was important to acknowledge my personal feelings before trying to inspire anyone else about beginning a new school year. I also realize now how those big picture ideals help me remember I’m not alone in this profession.
I wish I had the capacity to look every single one of the educators in this country in the face and say, “You are not in this alone. We are all struggling with the demands of the profession and just trying to figure out this experience of being a human. Talk to me. Talk to someone. Find a way to share, whether publicly or privately.”
The only way we will ever find balance is if we acknowledge—and maybe even help others to see—that we are trying our best to do what is right for others because we know we are all in this together. The experience of being human is a connected experience, and we have to tap into what is good about that. There is so much we cannot control about life and our careers, and if we don’t start thinking this way we might not make it.
So, as you begin your new school year, I hope you will believe in yourself and in the greater good to which you are committed. I hope you will reach out to others. I hope you will make this your mantra:
Onward and together, educators. We can do this!
Amanda Koonlaba teaches visual art in Tupelo, Miss., and serves as an arts integration instructional coach. She is an ASCD Emerging Leader with a specialist degree in educational leadership. Connect with her on Twitter @AKoonlaba.