Help! I’m Trying To Enjoy My Summer Off, But I’m Too Stressed Out To Relax

It’s an adjustment.

Teacher on a lounge chair with a thought bubble and the word school repeating

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m really struggling to adjust to summer after this insane year of teaching. I taught virtually for most of the year and then spent the last few months hybrid. It just really sucked the life out of me as it did so many teachers. And now that I’m off, I don’t know what to do with myself. I still feel stressed and worried. I dream about school every night.  I’m completely exhausted from the last year and a half, so you’d think I’d be enjoying the break. It’s always an adjustment from full-time teaching, but it feels so different this time. Can you help me figure out how to actually enjoy this time before I have to jump back in? —Teacher Tired

Dear T.T.,

It’s time to go from “school year you” to “summer you,” and you can do this. The last school year was beyond stressful, and I expect you, like many of us, were operating in crisis mode. It’s no wonder that you’re struggling to adjust to summer.

I asked one of our teacher advisors, Richard Kennedy, to weigh in. He suggested, “It would probably be a good idea to take a step back from what you can step back from, even if only for a few days. What responsibilities can you drop? Make some time just for you—for a hobby you love or even for trying one out. One teacher I know made learning disc golf his project this summer; another teacher friend is learning to knit.”

Another thing to consider, especially if you are still finding yourself feeling tense, is making time in the morning or at night for meditation. “More than anything, give yourself permission to mentally unwind without feeling guilty. So often, as teachers, we feel that we have to be everything to everybody. Take a mini-vacation, and don’t take anything that’s related to school. Sometimes you have to be selfish for yourself.”

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m a behavioral specialist employed by the county. I have always had a great relationship with my assigned schools. This year—as we all know—has been different. At the last minute, I was assigned to a school where everything went wrong. At the end, I made the mistake of telling off the principal there and got a written reprimand from the county. I feel so bad. I screwed up, and, at the same time, I know she was horrible to me. But my biggest mistake was not getting my county supervisor involved earlier,  and now she seems cold and distant. I know I disappointed her,  but I feel angry that they were so tough on me. They didn’t give a verbal reprimand for my first ever offense in seven years with them. I need to work on this bitterness I feel, or I will lose control again. Thoughts? —Reprimanded and Regretful

Dear R.A.R.,

It’s been such a hard year, and it sounds like you had some challenges on top of it. We all have our limits. Coping is a matter of learning where those fault lines are and practicing strategies that work for us before we hit our breaking point. I talked to Dr. Jane Esposito, a Certified School Psychologist and supervisor of her district’s Mental Health and Wellness Program, and she had this advice for you:

“Losing your cool at work is more common than you might think. According to a 2018 survey from the Accountemps staffing firm, more than half (52%) of employees said they’ve lost their temper at work. The positive side to what you have shared is that it seems that you have an understanding of your level of responsibility in the conflict and how you could have handled the situation better. This type of insight is beneficial in growing professionally and attempting to move past the situation.

“What should be addressed are your feelings of anger. This is normal but left unaddressed resentment can build, which can further fuel your anger and weigh you down emotionally as it demands considerable attention and energy. Start the healing process by practicing mindfulness and meditation. Recognize that negative thoughts and feelings will arise, know that they are just passing mental events, not reflections of your self worth and they don’t need to spoil one’s feelings of happiness. The ability to be less reactive on both a physical and emotional level is something we have the power to change about ourselves.”

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m teaching 8th grade summer school. Day one went great, but then a new student arrived on day two, and everything hit the fan. This kid is so disruptive. Nonstop talking and bragging. My usual technique of letting him talk a little bit and then hoping he would settle down didn’t work. Straight out asking him to be quiet didn’t work. Assisting him one-on-one with his studies made him turn into a one-man show for the class. I ended up removing him, which was a great solution for one day. But I’m not sure how to handle him come Monday. I know I can contact parents, but he’s been  in the alternative education program for so long that they’re probably immune to phone calls from school by now. Any advice for me? —Summer School Blues

Dear S.S.B.,

Summer school is a rough gig. Relationship is key here, and it’s so hard to build it in such a short amount of time. I talked to author and instructional leadership coordinator Dr. Towanda Harris, and she offered some excellent advice:

“Teaching summer school comes with many unpredictable factors and can be obstacles in your attempts to meet your students’ needs. I think it’s essential to reflect on your perception of the situation. Moving forward, here are some tips that may help:

1. Students benefit greatly in spaces that they feel seen and heard; however, there are community agreements (classroom expectations) that are created by the teacher and students that help to make that happen. Find a time during the day to share your expectations with the new student and share how those expectations help other students feel a sense of belonging as you all learn together.

2. It sounds like the student seeks attention and isn’t afraid to lead. Try to leverage that skill by having him co-lead an activity or possibly facilitate a discussion in a small group. I completely understand that this may seem a bit cheesy for 8th graders, but when we find ways to celebrate students’ contribution to the class community, more students begin to own their learning. Positive reinforcement is always a plus.

3. Removing students from class is a band-aid, not a solution. It seems as though the student’s behavior that you described is one that he uses to adjust and cope in a new environment. Of course, this is not our desire for our students to behave this way; we also have to be empathetic to all of the experiences (both negative and positive) that make up who they are.

“This, of course, does not happen overnight, but it is vital that as educators that we remain reflective and acknowledge our personal biases. Understand that you are not alone. It might be helpful to speak with other colleagues to work through different strategies that may have worked with similar situations with students. Finally, stay motivated and keep doing what you can to meet your students’ needs.”

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I relocated to a new state this past year where I accepted a probationary Special Ed position. It was a very difficult year, and I will not be returning to this school. This week, as I was trying to finish up paperwork, the teacher that is going to be moving into my classroom started putting her stuff in the room. I told her I would most likely be done by the last day of school. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to empty the rest of my things out, so I told my principal I would come back one more day. The next day when I came in, all of my personal belongings were stuffed in boxes and put in the hallway. When I asked why, she told me she didn’t think I was coming back for them. This woman has my number, and I worked closely with her and the rest of the department. She couldn’t have just waited? Am I expecting too much? —Common Courtesy

Dear C.C.,

I hear your frustration. Especially given the fact that you’re leaving, I understand why what happened to you might feel like a slight. I once took over for a teacher in the middle of the year who was let go, and I was very intentional about giving her space to clear out her stuff even though I could have used the extra time in the room.

But I’d give your colleague the benefit of the doubt. When I told principal Kela Small about your situation, she said this: “Things can move fast at the end of the school year! A day can make a difference in another person’s schedule, so it may have been easier to pack up your things in order for her to get moved in before school is closed for the summer.”

It might help to think about it in a more positive light. Kela went on to say, “I wouldn’t take it personally—if anything, I’d be glad all my things were packed up for me!”

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Dear WeAreTeachers: I just finished my first year of teaching at 33 years old. I teach math at an alternative high school. Maybe it’s since the shutdown happened last spring or since I got married or since I started teaching, but I feel so frumpy! I was a bartender for years and years and would put effort into my appearance for tips. But since the pandemic, my hair has grown out, and I haven’t colored it for more than a year. And then I started teaching high schoolers, and I’ve consciously tried to make myself look presentable but not “impressive,” if that makes sense? Anyway, I just feel like I’ve lost my mojo in the last year or so. How do I get it back?

Help! I'm Trying to Enjoy My Summer Off, But I'm Too Stressed Out To Relax