Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sleepy Cat

As a teacher, I care a very great deal about the classroom culture and atmosphere I foster and model for my students. There is an oft passed around mission statement type feel good quote that really resonates with me, despite being slightly cheesy. Basically, it says that teachers... eh, you know what? I'm just going to Google it. I'm too tired to summarize thoughtfully without blatantly plagiarizing. 
Okay, here it is, courtesy of an anonymous stranger who took the time to type it into Goodreads:

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

― Haim G. Ginott

Now, this could be read as a bit self important, but I choose to read it as a reminder that teachers have a huge responsibility to their students on more levels than just teaching them. Students spend half of their waking lives with me, and if I'm not a pleasant person to be around, I am making that half miserable. 

Okay, now I need to get to the point, which is hard, because my eyes are crossing. I have been working since last Friday off of about 4 hours average of sleep each night, due to a combination of factors: sometimes I was just stupid and stayed up too late frittering away precious sleep time in internet rabbit holes, other times I was frantically completing a grad school assignment at the very last minute (which is actually 13 hours ahead of all my classmates, due to time difference, so really, I am quite wholly a pathetically good procrastinator), a few times I woke in the night a feverish, dehydrated mess, stumbling downstairs to my mosquito den outdoor kitchen to get bottles of water, and night before last my neighbors decided to start Karaoke Fest Vientiane 2013 around midnight. They are not good singers, as I'm sure you are shocked to know. There was one night when neighborhood cats were having street fighter style epic battles on the auditory magnifying glass that is my tin roof, which then set the wall rats into a frenzy of fear, which resulted in a solid hour of yowling on top and squeaky-scritching all around, with me in the center of it all sighing in defeat, watching my mosquito net wave in the breeze from my A.C. while I calculated how many hours of sleep I was losing. By the end of this long line of comically interrupted nights, I have found myself staggering through the last two days in a sleep deficit addled haze, squinting at my life through burning eyes, desperately trying to remember how to spell basic words on the whiteboard. I don't even want to know what kind of responses I posted to my grad school discussion- I know I did them, and I read over them before posting them, but lately I have been typing things and re-reading them only to find the most surprising words in the mix. They glare up at me, wondering why I put them where they do not belong. Judgmental words are really the worst.

On top of the sleep exhaustion, I feel the guilt of knowing, with certainty, that I am being a sub-par teacher in comparison to the standards I have for myself (relevance of quote above, activated!). Oh, my lessons are still meticulously planned, the objectives line up, I start and end class on time: the framework is still there. But I can feel how much less fun of a teacher I am, because I am certainly not having very much fun myself when I am dragging myself up the stairs trying to remember what day it is. I can feel the energy of the room dampen a bit when I'm off my game like this. I can even sometimes see it in my students' faces: "What's up with Teacher? Why isn't she singing us random songs about what we're learning?" That is what makes me feel worse than a million nights of no sleep. Teaching isn't a job where you can roll in on a bad day, hunker down at your desk, and bang out your work while wrestling with whatever issues you have going on in life. You are physically in front of your responsibility all day long, and you just can't check out emotionally or mentally. Some of the worst days of any job I have ever had are the days when I have had to teach when I am broken down, bone weary, desperate for sleep, knowing that I have to stand, and smile, and support, and continue on. 

I miss approximately a million things about working in Albania, but this one is pertinent to the topic at hand: I had my own classroom, with a rug, and on our breaks my much loved co-workers could come nap on it with me. 

Feeling awful on top of feeling awful for doing a shoddy job because you feel awful is an exquisite exponent of discomfort. I left school yesterday vowing to go to bed early, but I found myself awake at midnight, poring over grad school work. I woke up this morning and clattered out of the house only to slip in a mud puddle and have to go right home to change. Sleep. I need it. 

More than sleep, though, this breaking point of exhaustion has shown me that I just need to get back into a routine that has a hell of a lot more self care in general. With as boring as I find Vientiane, and since I get out of work at 3:30, there really isn't any reason why I shouldn't be doing a lot more things that contribute to my health and happiness, which lends itself to being a better teacher, which also contributes to my happiness because I cherish my job and my students. That's not too sentimental of a verb, cherish: trust me that's the one I picked and that's the one I mean. This has been the first week where I've really had a terrible time due to not getting enough rest, and thus this has been the first week where I've felt like I'm only giving about 80%. In other areas of my life, however, I've been going through the motions almost from the day I arrived here: I haven't been working out or eating well; I haven't been reading nearly as much as I'd like to; I've been writing more but not nearly as much as I really need to in order to clean out my brain; and I have been doing a pitiful job of organizing my time in a way that helps me get caught up on grad school without resulting in my sitting up at one a.m. completing a mere 200 word response that I could have done the day before. Much of my disorganization in the past few weeks is due to adjusting to the idea of living in Laos alone, and being sad over my partner being gone, and not having any idea what will happen next, but the fact is that even that will be relieved, in some way, if I start investing more in things I know I need to do to help my life be much more pleasant in spite of my apathy towards Vientiane and the personal troubles I'm dealing with.

I should at least take advantage of the lack of things to do here, entertainment wise, by filling my time with books and writing and yoga and weightlifting, grad school and volunteering. From the moment I got here, I have focused almost exclusively on being a good teacher and doing a good job- which is fine and all, but if I am worn down into finely shredded pieces I won't even be able to accomplish that much.

It's 7:22 p.m. here in Vientiane, and the rain is pounding down on the Tree House while I type this. I have two cats curled up against my side purring; they are happily oblivious to the outrageous luck that has allowed them to be in my warm bed instead of outside in that rain. I have a shower to take and a book to read. I have a job to go to tomorrow where my students warrant verbs like cherish. By 8:00, I hope to be fast asleep. The rainstorm should keep any rooftop cats or karaoke jams at bay.

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