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I cried on my way home from teaching today, and I don’t know if I can go back tomorrow

First year/early career teacher burnout is real, I wish I knew it was a thing before I took the job.

It wasn’t a particularly difficult day at work today. But when I got into the car, I started crying.

In my first month of work, a group of parents practically rioted during my presentation at our school’s open house. It triggered the shit out of me and for weeks I had panic attacks every morning before work. It happened so much I made up a jingle to the tune of John Legend’s “headband of the day” that was made famous on Chrissy Teigen’s InstaStories.

panic attack of the day, it’s the panic attack offfff the dayyyyy

I still sing it more often than I would like. But life goes on, mental health crisis or not. Soon, I started working a second job tutoring after school, which was my old job before I started teaching. Now that I am doing both, I’m working from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm for the four days a week. I still live in my parent’s house at 30 (almost 31) and I can’t afford the start-up costs of Miami real estate on a teacher’s salary, which is why I need the second job.

By the time December came around, I didn’t know how I was making it through the day. Leaving the house by 7 am and not getting home until after 8 pm from Monday thru Thursday meant I was getting home and passing out almost instantly, many days without having eaten since noon. Then my boyfriend asked me for some time to work through some issues that had come up in our relationship and I spent all of Winter Break feeling like my mental health flare-up was going to swallow me whole. I barely left the house for the two weeks I had off.

School started back up and I was glad to see my kids. My eye had stopped twitching from the stress and I had an appointment to see a doctor (yay insurance!) for the first time in years. Things were looking up. Then I got the monthly calendar for January, saw we had a week-long “Catholic Schools Week” celebration and my eye twitch came raging back. Just the thought of more interruptions to my already limited instructional time massively triggered my anxiety.

During the second quarter of the school year, my anxiety was constantly triggered at work by what felt like never-ending interruptions. The entire week of Thanksgiving was a wash and so were the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The quarter ended and I had about half the number of grades I was supposed to have for my fifth graders. I felt like I was drowning, that my first year of teaching would be a failure, that I would be a failure as a teacher, that I am a failure as a teacher.

But every day I walked into school and I would see the kids’ faces light up when they saw me and hear their voices greeting me, and then the good aspects of the job and the joy would win. I’m taking more medication now, too, but the kids really were what kept me going. When you’re someone’s touchstone, and that someone is 10, it lights a hell of a metaphorical fire.

Tomorrow is the last day of Catholic School’s Week and it’s a field day. I cried on the phone with my co-teacher, telling her I’m thinking about calling in sick. But I know I couldn’t do that to my kids. If it was just kids at school, I would like my job a lot better. I can handle the kids. It’s the adults that are the problem and I don’t know if I can handle the adults tomorrow. The emotional labor we teachers extol is so consuming, that an anxious introvert like me feels completely drained by noon most days. I routinely hide in the bathroom for 15 minutes during lunch to recharge.

I just don’t have the energy to spend on adults at work who have moods and personalities. I don’t have the emotional energy left to “manage” them or “play the game” with coworkers who are old enough to be my parents. That’s the advice my coworker gave me: you have to play the game.

I honestly don’t know if I have it in me, but I will go to work tomorrow.