Protecting Your Peace in a Culture of Martyrdom

Recap time!

In a world where caregivers are expected to shed blood, sweat, and tears beyond their capacity, it’s hard not to become a martyr for the people you serve. Education, health care, and social services are all industries that rely on employees to completely surrender their own needs to serve the greater good – without recognizing that the system in itself is flawed, and is NOT sustainable by exploiting our labour this way.

And yet, here we are, begging the question, “How do we protect our peace?”

We spent half an hour a couple of Wednesdays ago during our second discussion panel chatting with two incredible individuals: Gabriel Malquisto, who works with street children in Manila, Philippines; and Michelle Gordon, who’s worked in America’s Title 1 schools, sojourned to the United Arab Emirates to learn work-life balance, and is now teaching in Texas, USA. Both had wisdom to share about how they deal with the trauma that comes from their work, and both had so much to say about how they unapologetically protect their peace.

The key takeaways:

  • Set strong boundaries, both physically and mentally.
  • Leave the trauma at work; don’t bring it home with you.
  • Make time to rest, or you will lose your passion for your work.

Obviously much easier said than done. In order to actually implement the aforementioned wisdom, there needs to be a complete shift in mindset for us – heck, even to BELIEVE we deserve to be at peace, even when the needs of our students are so pressing, requires bravery on our part. We cannot do our work if we burn out. Period.

So how do we protect our peace?

Click here to have a listen to the recording! We hope you get as much out of it as we did. We will update the blog post with the transcript once it’s ready 🙂

Enjoy!

How do you care without burning out?

Dearest ECN community,

Tell me: how do you care without burning out? Send me an email or leave a comment; I read every message.

It wasn’t too long ago that I burned out hard.

I crashed so hard that I was forced to take time off from work in order to rest and unfrazzle my frazzled nerves. This happened officially in April of 2018, though I had been burning out for years before that and didn’t think anything of it. I mean, come on. Wasn’t everyone working in education completely burnt out by mid-year? What was so special about me?

BY THE WAY, it’s a red flag when feeling burnt out is normalized in your industry.

The fatigue I experienced back then was deep and heavy. On top of being the eldest daughter from an East Asian family, I was also a teacher with a saviour complex, and that was 1000% a recipe for high anxiety. I ate up all the toxic messaging, including Ellen Gruell’s Freedom Writer mentality – EVEN THOUGH Ms. G’s personal life fell apart when work completely consumed her. There’s caring, and then there’s THAT.

This was my ol’ mug back in January of 2020, unable to get off the couch because my organs felt like they were dying. Yes, a year and a half after my bout with shingles and I was still randomly hit with this fatigue.

It actually took burning out for me to finally realize that my need to solve everyone’s problems perfectly in every way possible was making me sick. Articulating it this way makes me seem like I was insane, but there you have it. My close friend Helen even called me from San Francisco, California the week I got shingles. “Kay,” she yelled at me, “do you really need to drop dead in front of your classroom before you give yourself a break?” It’s one of Helen’s favourite moments, because it was the kick in the arse I needed to finally put my health first and get my head right (thank you, squidgette).

It’s now 2022. 4 years later, I’m healthier, calmer, and happier than I’ve ever been.

It took a lot of hard work in therapy, deep introspection of who I was going crazy for and why, untangling self-worth issues, and reimagining the kind of person I want to be. But I did it. 

And I’m still me. Just… 2.0 ☺️

Happy me!

I tell you this story, dear community, because it’s one that is so common in our profession. We’re worked to the bone and told we do it for the kids at all cost, even if it’s to the detriment to our mental and physical health. It’s the same with nurses, social workers, PSWs, and many other caregiving frontline workers. The guilt imposed on us when we try to live a rich life is overwhelming.

(And the impacts of this are ever amplified when you consider the intersectionality of marginalized identities in North America, aka everyone except middle-upper class cisgendered straight white men.)

So we normalize endless sacrifice. We normalize burdening ourselves with the problems of those under our care. We normalize becoming martyrs for our work.

Something has to change. But how?

If you’ve been following along on our socials over the last month, you’ll notice that basically all the content has been geared towards making sure y’all take care of yourselves this summer. Because you deserve the rest. And on top of that, our next Discussion Panel is all about how to care without burning out, aka fighting the Culture of Martyrdom that pervades the education industry. Everyone who’s caught wind of the discussion topic had the same response: “Whoa. That’s quite a topic.” And it is.

We’re going to unpack it with Michelle Gordon and Gabriel Malquisto during our Discussion Panel on Wednesday August 17th at 8pm EST/5pm PST.

Our hope is that you won’t feel so alone in your struggle. Please send us your questions for our panelists when you RSVP and we’ll do our best to answer them! And if you’ve got any tips for us that work well for you, feel free to share in the comments or email us. We’ll be sure to pass it along to our audience.

We’re all very excited to be hosting this much needed conversation. We hope you can join us.

Until August 17th, we’re sending you Love in the name of Peace and Justice.

Have a wonderful rest of your week 💖

– Karen and the Educator’s Coaching Network

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Laughing through the Absurdity: @TeacherMisery on IG

#ToolboxTuesday highlights a variety of intriguing resources for educators and beyond in support of our ongoing journey towards a more mindful, trauma-informed practice. Resources centre the dismantling of anti-oppression, and come in many different forms: novels, articles, teaching resources, and so on. If you have a resource to share, send us an email!

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How many times have you witnessed some bull throughout your journey as an educator and had some choice NSFW words for it?

Have you ever wished there could be a platform where all of the absurdity can be put on display with alarm AND humour so that those who don’t work in the system can understand?

Enter Teacher Misery.

Three best-selling self-published books of miseries plus annual teacher planners, all stuffed full of humour and no-bs insights into what it’s like to be a teacher these days. We don’t get any commission from linking them. They’re just so good, we had to share. Check them out at https://www.teachermisery.com!

This is a classic meme right here:

Now, let’s call a spade a spade. Obviously this is a major departure from the kind of resources that have been shared in our network thus far. What does this satirical IG account about the miseries of teaching have to do with anti-oppression? What does this have to do with being trauma-informed and mindful?

Well. Everything, really.

Aren’t so many of the unrealistic expectations placed on the shoulders of educators a direct result of everything to do with systemic issues in society at large? Consider all of the things: poverty, classism, racism, sexism, queer phobia, etc. We aren’t just charged with teaching curriculum; we’re charged with raising children who come with trauma. We’re charged with raising children who come from a home that isn’t safe for them. Who cares about calculus if the kid doesn’t have lunch that day? And we’re charged with doing all of it while spending our own money for basic resources and giving free labour in order to just function in our jobs.

Not to mention that in Ontario, we’re about to head into another round of contract negotiations, and my God – just wait for the blatant disparaging of teachers in order to justify the defunding of public education. Raise your hand if this has happened to you. Yes? You too? Yup.

It’s completely asinine.

So don’t we have the right to find community and laugh about it so that we don’t lose our minds?

And thus, once again, I introduce to you Teacher Misery, where gems like this and this are in abundance. Don’t forget their books too, which can be found at www.teachermisery.com!

Enjoy. Maybe cry a little at how ridiculously common these issues are. And then give yourself a hug, on behalf of the entire Teacher Misery community.

Because we’re all part of this garbage system, fighting for it to be better, together.

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Equity vs Inclusion – Manjit Minhas

#ThoughtfulThursday was created as a space to challenge our assumptions, stretch our imagination, and discover something new. If you’ve got some thought nuggets to share, feel free to send us an email!

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How many times have you been invited to the table, but found you were not given the space to speak? To contribute? Or worse, you would speak – but no one cared for what you had to say, or were openly hostile?

Manjit Minhas has been there, in a big way. She is one of Canada’s top entrepreneurs, best known for investing in small Canadian businesses as a Dragon on Dragon’s Den. She co-owns and runs a family business, Minhas Brewery, with her brother. To make it this far as the daughter of Indian immigrants in predominantly white male industries takes guts and grit, both of which Manjit clearly has. Check out this power pose – it’s actually what drew me to her in the first place. And then the content of her character sold me.

Seriously – look at this power pose! Image sourced from CanadianBusiness.com.

In her podcast, “A Wealth of Women’s Stories”, Manjit takes this episode to speak with Fate Saghir about overcoming adversity. They share their experiences, not only as women in business, but as Indian women in business.

Unfortunately, their stories are not so far off from the experiences of BIPOC folk in education. From being told that the company where Fate was just hired rarely hires women, to Manjit growing up facing the racism of being told to change her name, they had no shortage of stories.

And while both Manjit and Fate acknowledge that as individuals, we must push forward in the face of discrimination and use our obstacles to fuel our resolve, they also demand change in the system. Inevitably, equity and inclusion come up in their discussion, and one thing in particular that Manjit said stood out enough to be worth a good ol’ quote:

So I ask you again: how often are you invited to the table, but are discouraged from speaking?

Better yet: if you are in a position of privilege, how often do you invite folks to the table, and yet get annoyed at their “audacity” to challenge you, as if they should feel lucky to have been invited in the first place, so how dare they challenge you?

FOOD FOR THOUGHT.

Change begins within. Equity vs inclusion. It’s time to do more than send or accept invites.

It’s time to dance.

Check out the recap post about our Discussion Panel on “Equity at Work: Northern and Virtual Schools“. We’re just getting started.

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Centering Community: Nelson Lew

Our #FeatureFriday Series serves to honour educators and stakeholders of education in their ongoing hard work. Creating a more mindful, trauma-informed practice through an anti-oppression framework is not easy, but the work IS being done. Every day folk are not getting the recognition they deserve, so inevitably, we feel isolated in our grind. Our hope is that this series can be a reminder to you that we are NOT alone. Let’s connect and do this together.

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Nelson and I worked together years ago when I signed my very first permanent contract. I was this weirdo new teacher who didn’t quite know how to carve out a place for myself at my new school, and he was stuck with me as his new grade partner. He must have warmed up to me though, and to his credit, quickly and easily. That’s just the kind of person he is: open-minded, willing to see the best in people, and accepting of folks for who they are (unless, of course, you’re a world-class douchebag – my words, not his).

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Nelson’s Work

Nelson’s kindness was central in the way he was with our students (yes, even the not-so-kind ones). Our most challenging students have declared without skipping a beat that “Mr. Lew is like the nicest guy ever!” So when Nelson’s bio included “Nelson is also a father, husband, uncle, brother, son, and overall good dude 😁”, I chuckled at this cheeky line, but did not hesitate at all to include it. Because it’s true.

Our grade team back in the mid 2010s dressed as LMFAO for Halloween. Nelson’s the robot in the middle lol…

As one of the best music teachers I’ve ever worked with, Nelson champions the way of meeting student needs through the arts and creativity. Year after year, he prioritizes building a strong, supportive learning community that values human integrity above all else. I remember when he voluntarily put in hours after school to run a highly successful band. Kids from all walks of life participated in numerous competitions. Sometimes they lost, most of the time they won. Regardless of the outcome, the kids always felt like they were part of a team, and they always thrived in some way from being a part of Nelson’s band. There was one particular competition at our local amusement park stage, and Nelson always advocated and negotiated with school administration to make sure his band members were given time after their performance to enjoy themselves at the park for the day in celebration of their hard work. The kids appreciated his recognition.

Nelson is also a realistic teacher. He understands that he can only do what he can, and he extends that grace to his students. During the 2020-2021 virtual school year, he worked hard to remain attuned to student needs, even through computer screens. When he and I signed up to teach virtually that year, and were discussing our classroom set-up and curriculum, he always circled back to how we could keep student mental health in check. He knew there was potential for that year to be particularly isolating, and was realistic about how that would impact student ability to focus on academics. He wanted to create the same kind of community that he always did within his classroom walls to help students fight off loneliness above all else. And he did. As a result, Nelson’s students came eager to learn, engaged with their classmates, and again it was a space where they could put their worries aside with the understanding that they were cared for.

I’ve always been astonished at Nelson’s ability to create connection and community anywhere he goes, and I’m so glad that our education system has someone like him to support our students. Thank you Nelson for your dedication. Thank you also for believing in the community here with the Educator’s Coaching Network, and for being one of our very first panelists! After a year of hybrid teaching, enjoy your well-deserved summer.

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Stay tuned for more #FeatureFridays! Our next panelists for Discussion Panel #2 are next!

Until then, don’t forget to join our mailing list for updates, as well as RSVP to our next Discussion Panel in August!

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Best Practices for Equity in the Classroom: Northern and Virtual Schools

The Educator’s Coaching Network held our very first Discussion Panel, “Equity at Work”, on Sunday April 10th, 2022 at 1pm. Thank you to everyone who joined us! Our next panel, Discussion Panel #2, will take place during the third week of August 2022. The topic is “The Culture of Martyrdom: caring without burning out”. It will be quite a discussion. Join our mailing list for updates. Exact time, date, and panelists to be announced shortly.

Recap of Discussion Panel #1

Equity at Work: Northern and Virtual Schools

It goes without saying that “equity” has become a buzzword that we all know must be applied to our practice as educators. Our students come from all walks of life, and they thrive best in a space where the adults responsible for their care are attuned to their needs.

It also goes without saying though that we are so overwhelmed and overworked in our professions that being able to provide equitable learning experiences for our students has become breathlessly challenging.

So what then?

The Educator’s Coaching Network sought to address this during our very first Discussion Panel on April 10th, 2022. You may have seen our poster floating around Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. We wanted to give educators the space to talk about all the obstacles within the education system that makes it so difficult for us to do our jobs. At the same time, we strived to have a helpful AND hopeful discussion about how we cope so that we can still do the good work for our students.

Our small and mighty crew of like-minded educators came to our virtual space to listen as our humble yet stellar panelists, Nelson Lew (he/him) and Karah Kushnir (they/them), spoke with me about all things equity. Nelson came from the perspective of having taught in one of Ontario’s Elementary Virtual Schools with me during the 2020-2021 school year, and then teaching hybrid music classes the following school year. Karah came from the perspective of having taught in Canada’s First Nations and Inuit schools for the last few years. We learned a lot from them in the time we spent together; and while one hour is never enough, there were some great nuggets from our conversation that are worth highlighting.

Those Wisdom Nuggets!

The virtual world of teaching is drastically different from teaching in First Nations and Inuit communities for obvious reasons. While things look different on the surface though, the common philosophy of equity for staff and students alike are ultimately the same.

  1. Show up for the kids.
  2. Show up for yourself.
  3. Be humble.
  4. Be adaptable.
  5. Build community.
  6. Find humour somehow everyday.

Easier said than done, of course. In fact, it feels utterly impossible some days.

Well, the good news is, students don’t really need us to be perfect (more on this in our next Discussion Panel, “The Culture of Martyrdom: how to care without burning out”). Karah and Nelson, like any good educator, both emphasize that we all have things to work on, and that’s okay. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re supporting each other.

First Nations and Inuit Schools with Karah

One of the biggest takeaways from our chat with Karah was that we must meet students where they are. This was especially true for Karah, who grew up in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area. Coming from a place where the norms are that school comes first, and then ending up where kids miss school because they are off on a hunting trip – it’s enough to set you back on your heels. It’s a real culture shock to witness an entirely different way of being; and yet, this is the norm in many parts of our country. It’s something we must come to realize, understand, and embrace.

I laughed with Karah that it was probably good that they didn’t teach “in the south” first like a sweet summer child before going up to Canada’s Great White North. They agreed; it was just easier for them to go to these rural communities up north with a ton of humility and a willingness to learn without an urban educator ego in the way. It worked in their favour.

Even so, Karah has told me how they witnessed colleagues who did the internal work and put aside their preconceived notions of what education “should” look like. It’s hard work, but necessary, in order to meet students where they are. Many kids in northern communities won’t read beyond a 4th grade reading level in English, simply because the focus in their communities are just not the same. For Karah, if all they accomplish in one year is to guide these kids up just one more reading level in English, then they’ve done their job. Sometimes that’s just all we can do. And that, my friends, is how we provide equitable learning experiences in impossible situations: validating student individual needs, shedding our own preconceived notions of “should”, and meeting them where they are. It’s hard work, but uncomplicated, if we are willing to put our egos aside.

Elementary Virtual Schools (EVS) with Nelson

For Nelson, building community with his virtual class of 10-year olds was his focus. As he prepared for pandemic teaching, he knew that having students learn while isolated in their own individual homes was a recipe for loneliness; so, he made sure to prioritize connection above all else.

When he applied this framework to his virtual class, Nelson found the students connected in a way that allowed them to support each other in their learning, even though they were physically apart from one another. They felt comfortable voicing their needs, they felt cared for by their teacher, and they flourished more than anyone could have hoped for. This is another form of equity too, and meeting students where they are: understanding the circumstances, shifting focus, and responding accordingly to ensure student engagement. I worked with Nelson prior to our virtual school experience, and building community was something he was always good at when we taught together in a brick and mortar school. It didn’t surprise me that he made this a priority for EVS too, with much success.

What’s Next?

Reading about what Karah and Nelson have done with their students in a blog post seems like a no-brainer; however, the path to equity, crafted as masterfully as they have given their circumstances, is actually quite exhausting. The current systems in place makes it incredibly challenging for educators to create truly equitable learning in our classrooms. It’s easier to do so when we are partnered with incredible Educational Assistants (EAs) and other support staff; however, given the constant defunding of education in North America and beyond, it’s near impossible to get sufficient support to do our jobs well. As a result, educators like Karah and Nelson are expected to martyr themselves for the cause of education. I fell down this rabbit hole for years, as have many of my colleagues. It’s not sustainable. Enough is enough.

Our next Discussion Panel #2 will address this very issue. How do we care without literally making ourselves sick? Come and join us for a discussion on The Culture of Martyrdom: caring without burning out. This is relevant not just in education, but across many other people-centered industries and non-profits… and quite frankly, across all aspects of life.

Date and time, along with our panelists, to be announced soon. Join our email list for monthly updates.

Humbly yours in Love, Peace, and Justice,

– Karen and the Educator’s Coaching Network

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Biographies

Karah Kushnir (they/them) has been teaching Indigenous students in Nunavut and Northern Ontario for the last few years. Karah truly enjoys facilitating learning, and is relentless in providing empowering educational opportunities for their students – even when it seems like the country has given up on these kids. They’re a gem of a human 💖

Nelson Lew (he/him) has been working for the YRDSB for 15+ years, one of which was fully virtual during the 2020-2021 school year. He is currently the Music teacher at John McCrae Public School. Nelson is also a father, husband, uncle, brother, son, and overall good dude 😁 He’s had to provide equitable learning for music in hybrid mode! Madness, and mad props.