December 30, 2021

Your Contractual Obligations: Exhaustion

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Blogging as Your Contractual Obligations, this teacher takes a look at one source of stress and fatigue in this year’s schooling.

First draft teaching has defined my school year. It is a direct result of an exhaustion that lives deep in the marrow. Not every misstep leads to students crying. Mistakes like the one I recounted above coexist with piles of unmarked student writing, IEP narratives thrown together at the last minute, and instructional units that feel more like a random grab-bag of activities than a well scaffolded and sequenced whole.

I haven’t felt this pedagogically unsound since my first couple years of teaching. I need more time and I need more energy. Unfortunately I can’t just manifest these things into existence. I know I’m not the only teacher feeling this way because my social media timelines are filled with teachers saying the same things: this is not sustainable. We are long past broken.

The situation isn’t completely lost, however. It never is. As Rumi famously wrote, “the wound is the place where the light comes in.

But what if there are no wounds for the light to seep through? Instead of stopping to take the time to perform a proper autopsy, we just keep layering on gauze. We’re left with an imbricate patchwork of broken systems and broken people, a frankenstein of disparate parts lurching forward towards some mythical moment when everything will be okay.

Regardless, I’m too exhausted right now for solutions. That’s not what this post is about. It’s about trying to use language to carve out a space to be unwell, even if only for a few hours. So I stab away at this dead skin-encrusted keyboard with the hopes that documenting this moment might facilitate some sort of alchemical transmutation, a process to render my banal exhaustion into something more generative and useful.

Because there is nothing to gain from exhaustion. It is anti-mindfulness. It is neither past nor present nor future. Sustained exhaustion locks me into a deracinated now, a mode of existence disconnected from history and context and progress. This makes it hard to see that what’s happening now with teachers and schools and students is an intensification, not something entirely new. It is an atomizing force that buries our obligations to each other, our selves, and the earth.

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