Teachers: Put Your Oxygen Mask On First

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put your oxygen mask on firstI’ve been blogging a lot about stress lately. I’m simply following Mark Twain’s advice to “write what you know” and right now I know stress! As I’ve blogged before, this is a very stressful time to be an educator and things really come to a head in the Spring which is full of high-pressure, high-stakes testing as well as decisions that affect the future of both students and teachers as well as administrators, administrative units, and even whole institutions. This is pink slip season here in Kentucky where many teachers find themselves [often] unexpectedly unemployed. I know other teachers who will have a job in the Fall, but it will be drastically different than their current job – and not always what they planned. My own personal status falls somewhere between the two. Struggling with our own personal employment stress is challenging enough, but combine it with the struggles and worries of our friends and the painful cuts (all the easy cuts were made long ago) administered by our institutions and it is overwhelming. Yes, overwhelming, immense, inordinate. That is why it is so important to put your oxygen mask on first.

As you know, when you travel by air the safety instructions tell you that an oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling above your head. We are always advised to first put our own mask on and then to help others who might need assistance. While this might seem selfish and counterproductive, in fact the opposite is true. If you pass out due to lack of oxygen because you were helping someone else who could not put their mask on then who is served? In fact, now you will both pass out and possibly die (unless someone else followed instructions and can reach you to help).

I think it is hard for nurturing people (who I think tend to choose service professions such as education) to be selfish, but much like the oxygen mask dilemma, we need to remember that if we do not help ourselves first then we may not be able to help others. Sometimes being selfish is actually being selfless.

Each of us has individual stressors and just like on an airplane we each have our individual oxygen masks. We need to take moments in our day to breathe deeply. We need to take the time to put ourselves first. Not our families. Not our students. Not our administration. I know our first impulse is to push through our struggles and difficulties knowing that summer vacation is coming, but I often think these final days and weeks are the hardest because we are worn down in every sense of the word. We are as dried up and spent as the box of dry erase markers no one is willing to replace at this time of year. This is exactly the time of year that we need to take an evening for ourselves, a weekend to refresh, or at least an hour here and there to renew. Don’t wait until you have crashed and burned before reaching for that oxygen mask. Grab it now with both hands and breathe deeply.

I really wish I wasn’t thinking about airplanes because now all I can think about is crashing and burning. This is my current visual of my career and future in academia. Here’s hoping yours is brighter and either way we will breathe through it together.

crash and burn

Drawbox Safety Message by Chris Brogan

One thought on “Teachers: Put Your Oxygen Mask On First

  • You’re absolutely right. My own experience with “pushing through” left me so exhausted and sick that I had to endure severe panic disorder. It has taken me almost two years to recover.

    I really hope you are now finding some time to relax in the sun somewhere.

    Godspeed.

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