A friend recently said to me that June is Friday night, July is Saturday, and August is Sunday night for teachers, and that description rang so true for me. While I am no longer in the classroom, I remember every Friday night: my husband begging me to go out and do something with friends and me just wanting to curl up on the couch and zone out. June is that weird transition time, where you want to enjoy the freedom of summer, but you’re just so tired that all you can manage is to crawl your way to a lounge chair by the beach and rest.
Then there’s Saturday. You feel an urgency to do all the things you know you can’t do during the week – workout really well, clean, make food, hang out with the people you love, and be present for your own children. July is always this too. I find myself freezing food, deep cleaning closets, planning fun days for the kids, going on vacations, and being my version of a socialite (which, since I’m introverted, might look slightly different than all you extroverted people!) I love July.
Then, August comes. I feel the slight stomach rumbles. My mind starts to create all the lists. I enter what I call hyperspeed. I don’t stay still. I’m constantly trying to address all the things left undone on my checklist from July. The August brain just feels different for those of us in education, and while I’m not gearing up for a classroom of students anymore, I still find myself in the same physical pattern because my body and brain have strong memories.
Our bodies and brain aim to keep us safe, and they store memories of feeling unsafe. Feelings of unsafeness are not what we might typically think of as scenarios or locations that we recognize as unsafe – the busy street, the dark alley, the seedy motel. Instead, we feel unsafe in our bodies and brains anytime we feel a lack of agency. Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk defines agency as “the technical term for the feeling of being in charge of your life; knowing where you stand, knowing that you have a say in what happens to you, knowing that you have some ability to share your circumstances” (97). As educators, the repeated experience of a lack of agency in our workplace imprints as a trauma on our bodies, and our bodies prepare themselves for that traumatic experience every Sunday night by ramping up our adrenaline, our cortisol levels, and initiating the hyper-focused response. We are getting ourselves ready to fight.
Some outside of education might be rolling their eyes right now and saying, “Oh, but come on! You have two months off every summer. What are you complaining about?” This might be true, but as the late Dr. Richard Dufour wrote, “If teaching is such a cushy job, why is it only 10 percent of American parents say they would definitely encourage their own children to pursue teaching (Dolton & Marcenaro-Gutierrez 2013)?” (61) Like it or not, everyone in our society knows that being an educator is difficult and complex, and the lack of agency is the most serious of these difficulties.
So what are we to do as educators to deal with this “Sunday night” phenomenon? The answer is connect. Connect with yourself and connect with others. Connection is the antidote to feelings of unsafeness, as it allows us to regain a sense of agency. In education, though, connection tends to be the hardest thing for us to do because we have been enculturated to self-protect through isolation–hence the “close your door and teach” desire. DuFour quotes Roland Barth (1991) as saying “‘God didn’t create self-contained classrooms, fifty minute periods, and subjects taught in isolation. We did–because we find working alone safer and more preferable to working together” (128). Yet, we know that “Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives” (Van Der Kolk 81). We need connection to feel safe; the opposite of what we have been led to believe as educators.
In other words, we have to fight the temptation to isolate during this August period by practicing connection. First, we must connect with ourselves by paying attention to the emotions and sensations flowing through our bodies during this season. We need to name our anxiety and fear and loss of agency before we take it out on others or ourselves. We need to lean in and sit with these feelings rather than avoid or numb them because only in the naming and the sitting can there be healing.
Second, we need to connect with others whom we trust and love. Host a back-to-school planning party with colleagues where you can collaborate and connect around all the necessary tasks. These tasks can be school related, or they can be things like a freezer meal-making marathon for all those days you know you won’t have time or energy to cook. Talk together about how you can claim more agency over your lives in the upcoming year–identifying the spaces where you still have choice and control. Write these spaces on a paper and commit together to reclaiming these areas in the upcoming year.
Lastly, continue to simply enjoy laughter and fun together. These emotions are healing balms for stress, and they happen in the community.
August’s Sunday night doesn’t need to be riddled with anxiety and stress. Instead, it can feel like the Sunday nights of my childhood where we sat together as a family and ate an easy meal of popcorn and apples and watched whatever movie we picked out at the library on Saturday. These nights bring thoughts of warmth and love and joy; they were filled with connection and community. But, they didn’t happen by accident. They were planned and repeated, so let’s commit to living into that type of Sunday night. Let’s connect.
DuFour, R. (2015). In praise of American educators: And how they can become even better. Solution Tree Press, a division of Solution Tree. van der Kolk, B. A. (2015).
The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. Penguin Books.
About Rebekah Schipper, M.Ed.
Rebekah’s passion is to help individuals experience wholeness in their places of work. As an experienced facilitator and educator, Rebekah serves as the primary instructor, curriculum designer, and Executive Director for Opportunity Thrive.
She is trained in Mindfulness, Restorative Practices, Trauma-Informed Practices, PBL, Design-Thinking, Cognitive Coaching, Leverage Leadership, and Writing and Reading Workshop. As a former educator and instructional coach, she has a deep background in working with small and large groups to facilitate goal-oriented growth.
In her current role, she trains and coaches educators from across Michigan to discover the pathways through their stress, and she equips districts and schools to transform their cultures to be healthier places for all to work and thrive.