For teachers, therapy isn’t a terrible idea.
Let me back up. Many psychoanalysis programs require new practitioners-in-training to undergo a course of analysis of their own.
The rationale makes sense: journeying with the patient through the muck and mire, the fear and anger and pain, can cause memories to bubble up, complicated feelings, in the analyst. The analyst’s needs and emotions, however, are not relevant in the therapeutic encounter — they can undermine the therapeutic relationship.
The analyst needs to learn how to keep memory and emotion in check – to deal with them appropriately.
True, also, for parents.
A friend recently confided that when he sees his young children struggle, it brings up memories and feelings from some long-forgotten places.
“Some of the feelings,” he admitted, “are ugly. I need to keep them in check. Process them elsewhere. Shield my children from them.”
So there we are, teachers, in front of a class, day after day. No one can see our flaws better than a room full of adolescents. They see, inevitably, setback, frustration and failure – even in the best of us. They see us wince when someone says that one thing we can’t stand. (Commedian John Mulaney has a hilarious sketch on the uncanny ability of middle school students to zero in on the one thing that we don’t like about us. Check it out).
When the students complete a project and demonstrate that they’ve learned something valuable, we fly.
When the computer network shuts down and erases an entire period worth of work, we fall. We can fall, hard.
And that’s just in the classroom. There are deadlines. Budgets. Parents. Testing. That one colleague we can’t stand. Performance reviews.
There is wiping up glue and glitter and cottage cheese from a desk.
Like many high-stress professions, burn-out is an issue. Compared to doctors’ attrition rate which has hovered around 6.5%, around 50% of teachers quit in their first five years, bringing the overall attrition rate to 17% (and as high as 20% in some areas).
Some research shows that improved induction programs can mitigate some of this attrition rate (mentoring, reduced course loads, etc), but there isn’t much we, the teachers, can do about that. good times
What we can do, however, is powerful.
- Consider therapy. Consider starting a few weeks before you begin teaching. Consider staying in therapy for the year. Work through the baggage, the emotions, the setback. If you feel any sort of stigma about it, take comfort in this: according to a Harris poll in 2004, 27 percent of Americans were in therapy within the last two years of the poll.
- Consider meditation.
- Consider listening to a guided imagery tape like one, by Dr. Belleruth Naparstek, at least once a day for the first several weeks of teaching (Her voice is sort of weird, but it works).
Find a Confidant
You need to find someone who is unequivocally on your side. Someone who you can complain to without fear of judgment. Someone who will learn the names of the thorns in your side, and reflect your best self back to you when you’re done venting. Someone you can IM in the middle of the day: “Guess what (insert name) just did/said/threw at me.”
The effective confidant will help you to find your sense of humor and prop you up a little when you need it – and is ready to assess solutions and interventions. If your rapport is strong, s/he will know when you need a little “tough love,” and when it’s time for that, will offer it like a cool drink from a garden hose. Not a firehose.
The confidant can be a colleague, but does not have to be.
And honestly, the confidant is not optional.