Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Oppressive Loneliness

Posted by Lara at 6:24 PM
Yesterday - Saturday - I came to school a little after 1:00pm. I wanted to finish grading my students' projects and maybe get a jump start on lesson planning for the week. I figured if I could get enough work done on Saturday I might avoid going in at all on Sunday, and my Sunday could be about football and church and NO WORK. It was a productive day, and my stack of projects still to be graded was pretty small by the time the sun set. Around 8:00 I thought to myself, "It's eight o' clock on a Saturday night! I should go home."

And then I thought, "Why? So I can lie in bed alone and watch TV until I fall asleep? At least here I'm productive." And then the loneliness hit me, and almost 24 hours later, it's still there.

I work all the time primarily because I have a lot of work to get done and I want to do a good job with it. I'm a bit of a perfectionist - you're shocked, I know - and I want to make sure that when I step in front of my students I'm as prepared as I can be. I like to know that I'm really helping them learn and grow, not just surviving from one day to the next without falling apart in the classroom. It's my first year, so I'm creating a lot of my curriculum from scratch, and that can be very time-consuming. I have a lot to get done, and so I work a lot.

But I also work all the time because I have nothing else to do. I have no dance rehearsals to go to, no friends waiting to hang out with me, no one to go home to in the evenings. I really have very little in my life right now except work, so I figure I might as well just work a lot. The problem with that is that it hurts my heart to feel like this is all I have. Of course, this is really just a catch-22 when you think about it - I work all the time because I have nothing else to do, and I don't have anything else to do because my work is so time-consuming that I don't have the time to spare.

My roommates actually go out with friends in the evenings. They're actually social. For me, being social means attending a staff meeting during lunch instead of eating alone. But when friends IM to say, "Hey, let's hang out!" my response is always, "I can't, I have too much work, but thanks for asking." And I'm not lying - I do have too much work. But at the same time, if I don't start having something in my life besides work, I'm going to go insane. My mom reminded me today that I've only been doing this for about a month, so I shouldn't feel like I've been trapped in a prison cell for years or anything. And yet, it sometimes DOES feel like I've been in solitary confinement for YEARS.

Earlier today, I just sat in my classroom with tears trailing down my cheeks. It's so lonely here, and I feel confined by my own plans and perfectionism. I know God called me here, and I know that He has plans for me. I just don't know why I have to be alone while I'm waiting for those plans to come to fruition.

31 comments:

Maggie on 7:31 PM said...

*Hugs*

I can imagine how lonely it much feel -- I hope that things get a little easier once things aren't so new anymore.

I'll be thinking of you.

franz the mouse said...

Yeah, I feel like that once in a while, even though most of the time I'm a really happy single person. Of course you don't really lack friends to hang out with; it just feels like that at the moment because your brain decided to feel sad and lonely. (Maybe not enough sleep? No, couldn't be.) My understanding is that you've got Tpiglette in the same building, for example. And, hey, you know I'm always open to an emailed "Let's do something!" I'd hop on my fastest bike and be at your place in I'm guessing <30min. Though, heh, my fastest bike would definitely have to take up space in your apartment while I'm there; it's definitely got some high-falutin' ways.

Mandy on 8:36 PM said...

The first year of teaching can be overwhelming.

I hope you do find the time to put some work aside and go out with friends. It will make you a healthier person overall. And, ultimately, a better teacher.

Big ((((hugs))))

BetteJo on 9:18 PM said...

I have no answers for you here, I am along a lot myself - but I am pretty happy this way. Of course I've had my kids and am at a totally different time in my life than you are.
I would imagine that the work load will even out as you go on, and get used to all you have to do.
You might just have to force yourself to say yes to an IM - once a week or something.

No help, I know. Wish I had something more for you.

tali said...

*Hugs*
That's the bummer of transitions - figuring out what the pattern of your life will look like, and making it something you can live with.

But you should always feel welcome to call when you have random time free. Also, I am soon to need a shoe shopping outing, and you were going to teach me how to make-up myself at some point too ... we can just schedule a time for that stuff and if we have to keep rescheduling due to work that's totally ok.

*More hugs*

Middle Aged Woman on 3:56 AM said...

Number 7 Habit of Highly Effective People: Sharpen the saw. If you don't spend some time taking care of yourself, your effectiveness in the classroom will suffer. Also, from a teacher who's been at it for awhile? Don't grade everything! Let some of it be practice for the big game.

nancypearlwannabe on 5:39 AM said...

I know how you feel. Working in a school is crazy time-consuming, but then when you finally do get to go out and have fun with friends it's like you have a new found appreciation for fun. Don't get me wrong, I love summer vacation and all, but too much free time is not good for me either.

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah on 5:44 AM said...

You have to make time for yourself. Seriously, even if it means losing a couple hours of sleep go out to dinner with your roommates or go out for drinks.

Being good at what you do and committed to your job are wonderful things but if you make it your whole life you will just end up resenting the career you have chosen.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Hanlie on 6:05 AM said...

It's good to recognize this as early as a month in... Now you can begin to search for the balance. Yes, work is important, but not at the cost of your emotional wellbeing. You need the support of your friends, as well as some good fun!

Jill B on 6:21 AM said...

I'm right there with you. It's hard to build back up, but here's what I do (theoretically). I work "real hard", and have one evening set aside STRICTLY for socialization. Then I can plan ahead for it, look forward to it, and when I've worked hard, feel like I've earned it, and because I'm working hard, not feel like I'm being a slacker by taking one night. Because everybody's right - you have to take time for yourself to make it work.

LK on 8:14 AM said...

Ooh. I've been there.

The key is to create boundaries in your life. Even if you don't have anything to do at 8:00pm on a Saturday night, it doesn't mean that you have to spend that time at work. Set up a definite time to go home, and set up you-time on weekends. Even if you're doing nothing but sitting in your PJs watching crappy TV, it's still time for yourself. PLUS, when you get those invites, you can actually accept them!

I'll keep you (and all the lonely people out there) in my prayers today :-)

Molly on 8:38 AM said...

Sorry that you are feeling sad/lonely. I have to say you pretty much wrote exactly how I feel right now as well! If you figure out why you have to be alone while waiting for your plans to come about, please pass it along!

Thinking good thoughts for you!

Graham on 9:06 AM said...

The other side of your mom's comment is that, if you've only been there a month and you're feeling like this already, then you should make sure to start taking care of yourself *now*, or just think how you'll feel after a full year of it. Maybe start by picking just one night a week to do something relaxing or fun. Any little start will help, and you'll still have 7 days and six nights to work if you really need it. I'd certainly rather see you come dance than go crazy. And remember, if you have a nervous breakdown and have to stop teaching, all that preparation and work won't help your students much anyway. Balance is important.

nutmeg on 2:29 PM said...

I can't tell you how wonderful the young people are that I've met by working on the Obama campaign. Every time I go to a meeting or a function I think, "Why aren't my single friends doing this? Look at all these hot young guys with integrity!" Not that the only way to combat loneliness is meeting men... It doesn't suck though and volunteering is never a bad thing!

Just an idea!

Miss A on 3:52 PM said...

As one teacher to another, put down that grading and planning pen AND make time to go out with you friends. It will help you maintain your sanity in the classroom. In my 1st year as a teacher, I was in a similar place as you. I worked ALL the time. And when I turned around to look for my friends b/c I finally had time for them, they were all gone or didn't have time for me. Friendships are things you should nurture. You don't want to wake up tomorrow and a friend has gone and the only excuse you have is " I was too busy to spend time with them"

Lisa on 6:42 PM said...

In nine years of teaching I can tell you that one of the most important lessons I've learned is that any good teacher always feels like there is SOMETHING to be done. Even me, nine years later, thinks of the ten thousand things that just HAS to get done.... but the other important lesson is that you will survive if you just stop working and take time for yourself. Actually you will do better than survive, you will be a happier person for having that balance. Stop grading, and planning, and working.....IM one of YOUR friends and ask them to hang out. The papers, and the students, will be there for you another day.

Lara on 7:11 PM said...

thanks, everyone. i know balance is important - i do know it in my head - but i just haven't been able to make it actually happen yet. having this blog - and you all! - is one small way i'm maintaining balance. i mean, at least i haven't shut down or stopped writing! :)

flutter on 7:16 PM said...

((you))

LSM on 7:38 PM said...

Many of the earlier commenters gave great advice. This is another "I've been there too." response. I remember my husband, the engineer who was making twice as much as I was my first year of teaching, asking me, "What the hell are you doing that you're having to work this hard all the time?" I literally came home from school every night, took an hour break and then graded until time to go to bed.

Then I realized that there is no need to grade every single thing the kids do or to have every assignment back the next day.

A grading tip I learned from a consultant named Lee Jenkins...choose five things that you might grade in an essay, for example: tone, mechanics and usage, topic sentences, organization, etc. Then assign each one a number from one to five. Tell students that you will let them roll a die to decide what's going to be graded for that essay. 1 to 5 equal the thing you identified for that number; six means you grade it all.

The English teachers I work with say this has allowed them to focus more thoroughly on giving feedback on student writing without spending hours grading the whole paper every time. Plus, students have to pay attention to all of it because they never know exactly what will be graded.

I also found that it worked for me to check daily assignments in bulk with bi-weekly notebook checks rather than grading each assignment every day. I would stagger the classes so I didn't pick up all five sets of notebooks at the same time.

Hang in there. It does get easier! Hey, maybe you can ask the hot teacher guy for tips. :)

Angella on 9:00 PM said...

Oh, Lara. I remember being in that same place before I met Matthew. I worked all the time and was lonely, even though I had friends.

I knew God had a plan, but it was hard to see it.

Hang in there!

Clair on 9:03 PM said...

Maybe you could find a dance class to go to, or a group to join, or something to keep you focused on the rest of the world, at least a few nights a month if you can't make a weekly commitment. When I started grad school, I cut back on all commitments except my choir. I refused to take classes on our rehearsal night, and I put all my books aside on Sunday mornings before our Mass. This saved my sanity during the most stressful semesters, and made me a much more happy, engaged, and prepared student the rest of the time.

But figuring out the balancing act was hard. Good luck!!

Trish on 5:54 AM said...

Being a teacher also, I know how much time it consumes. But you have to remember that it is not ALL about work. You have to be you, too. You have to find a balance. And you are not alone. There are tons of us here.....just a post away.

Issas Crazy World on 9:08 AM said...

Hugs. My mom always says you don't live to work, you work to live. You are doing a great thing for your students, but you have to take care of you too.

Mrs. Chili on 2:25 PM said...

Speaking as someone who understands the whole "I have to do right by the kids" thing, I'm going to tell you to go out the next time someone IMs to invite you. You cannot give what you do not have, and if you can't learn to take time for yourself and recharge, you're going to be a lousy teacher. TRUST me on this one.

Natalie on 2:21 AM said...

I love you.

Anonymous said...

Beer.

My Life My Life My Life on 12:04 AM said...

I hate this kind of sadness. This overwhelming lonliness. It hurts when its the something you love that consumes you and your happy with that consumation (is that even a word??? I do believe it is but I do believe I am using it in TOTALLY the wrong context here) of your life UNTIL...

Such a catch 22...

Anonymous said...

you must read "the courage to teach." NOW!

Nicholas on 2:33 AM said...

Loneliness can be corrosive. Believe me, I know. But that is one thing the internet is for. You have any number of friends out here ready to write and talk to you.

Kara on 12:46 PM said...

And you know there are still people out there who think that teachers have it easy because their work days end at 3:00 (nobody thinks of people who HAVE to coach- or boarding school teachers who live with their students or how we grade and prep for hours each night) and they have summers off (hello summer job!).

You WILL find a rhythm. You will. It HAS only been a month so don't beat yourself up. Schools can be funny places- people tend to be nice to the new people at first, then pull away (though not in a malicious way) to keep on top of their own work load. The end of the first month is when most new hires have a moment of "oh my God what have I done." What you're going through is totally normal. You have a long weekend or two on the horizon, then Thanksgiving break, then Christmas. Those months will fly by. Then January will drag. You'll feel funky again. Spring break will seem a world away. After break, the lacrosse sticks and frisbees come out, the kids are drunk with hormones and promise, and before you know it, the year is over.

The period between the first day and Thanksgiving break is the longest stretch of the school year. You'll make it.

MJ on 8:04 PM said...

Big hug!
I have been just where you are. I moved 1500 miles to go to college where I knew no one. At first I just threw myself into school, I had the best GPA ever. I would sit at home, all alone in my empty apartment and count the days until I could go home. I finally forced myself to join a club, just one. I was painfully shy so it was really hard but it actually helped. I had one thing to look forward to each week, and that gave me hope.
Start small, maybe send Tpiglette an email like franz said and make yourself do something once a week. Have a standing date, you will find that knowing you have something pre-planned once a week will help. It takes baby steps. It will get better, I promise!

 

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