This article was written by Stephanie Kennelly - an elementary classroom teacher for ten years. She is currently taking a leave of absence to promote wellness in education. Stephanie loves practicing yoga and enjoying the outdoors in all of Minnesota’s seasons. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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My grandma was a teacher. My mom was a teacher. The only thing I can ever remember wanting to be was a teacher. I felt (and still feel) that it runs through my blood as a core piece of my identity. So, it may come as a shock that I am stepping away. I am leaving my job as a classroom teacher.
The realization came as a slow and steady evolution. However, at the end of the path, the decision was ready made. Here is my story.
Last summer I read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. To summarize, she walks the reader through a process of decluttering belongings by asking a question about each and every object. “Does it spark joy?”
This question bounced around in my head as I began to evaluate my life, growing busier with time clutter by the day. I thought, What if I applied the idea of spark joy… to my time? I began my courageous analysis.
I started journaling about every action I took throughout the day. I kept a diligent log for weeks. Then, I went back and looked at each and every item and asked, “Did it spark joy?” (For my purposes, I define joy as activities that keep me grounded in the present moment and contribute to my long-term wellness. However, this could be an entirely different blog post!)
With that definition of joy, I developed a rating scale.
1 = spark joy
0 = joy neutral
-1 = joy depleting
I determined that after adding up all of my numbers, I could with almost certainty predict the outcome of my day. High number, great day. Negative number, horrible day. It seems so obvious now, but at the time, it was a real revelation.
I set a new life purpose. Create days with a high joy value.
How to begin?
Eliminate the -1
What could I do to completely cross joy depleting actions off my list? Example- The joy depleting errands through big box stores were replaced with Amazon delivery.
Transform -1 into 0
What could I do to change a joy depleting activity into a joy neutral activity? Example- While loading the dishwasher (-1), I started listening to audiobooks (1). In one simple step, I created a 0!
I was starting to make progress on the homefront. I was amazed that with very little effort, my days were increasing more joyful.
However, now I was faced with looking at my professional time.
Taking attendance: 0.
Facilitating Inquiry: 1.
ANYthing involving standardized tests: -1.
I was stunned at the results. A profession I thought I loved, left me with more days than I wanted to admit, in the negatives. I always had considered myself a positive person. I was confused. Had education changed? Had I changed? Were other teachers feeling this way?
Just to humor myself, I started crossing off all of the -1 activities from my list. Is it possible to create a day with mostly spark joy? If it were possible, what would it look like? As fast as my hand could write I began to journal about the vision.
I visualized joy being at the center of education. I visualized feeling full year round with minimal moments of depletion and exhaustion. I wanted to create a life that I didn’t need a vacation from. I extended the vision, not only to myself, but to every other teacher in the profession. What if we could create a system that held teacher and student wellness as the centerpiece for all decisions? What if.
It was in that moment that my decision came ready made. This school year I committed to take daily action around the things that matter to me most. I began to notice a difference in my energy as I began using my strengths.
It was with a mixture of certainty and trepidation that I applied for my leave of absence. It shocked my family and co-workers. It shocked my students and parents. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer the question, “What will you do?” The best response I could come up with was, “Live my joy”. Because really- what else is there?
I dove in and began doing research. I found organizations and people that had similar missions. To bring wellness to teachers and students. To prioritize joy. To make time and space for personal growth and development. Things have to change in the field of education, or the high rate of burn out will leave our students stranded. I believe I can help bring that change.
So, here I am. My last day of school. I may be leaving the classroom, but I will always consider myself a teacher.