Re: I’m so discouraged… is it just me?
Posted by Rob Chilton on 8/19/2021, 9:20 am, in reply to "I’m so discouraged… is it just me?"
Hello Any suggestions? - |
First of all, thank you for your honesty about your frustrations and feelings of discouragement. It's not uncommon to feel this way with all the things you're going through. We've all felt this way at one time or another and can empathize with your situation. There aren't any magic solutions that I can offer, but I will do my best to offer you some advice.
First of all, the last year and a half has been hard on for students and teachers alike. Pre-COVID, my middle school enrollment was at it's highest at about 350 students. We had just come off the high of performing at TMEA and Midwest and the things couldn't be better. Once COVID hit, we saw a drop in numbers of about 25-30% over the course of a year. Most of those students were virtual, but there were also in-person students that just didn't feel connected to our activity for various reasons. Some of the students dropped just because their friends did. It's hard to understand the reasons students make these decisions, but nonetheless, it happens. We tried our best to look inward at our program and methods in efforts to meet the students needs and desires to retain those that were still in the program.
It's hard not to take "quitters" personally. We all invest so much time into our programs that it hurts when a child makes a decision not to participate regardless of whether it's for a good reason or not. One thing I always told my staff is to let go and teach the kids that were there. You'll be much happier.
Speaking of happiness, try to use this time as an opportunity to redefine what makes you happy. This is something I struggled with a lot and can't say I ever mastered the idea, but I did eventually learn to find happiness more in what I had and less in what I didn't. Try to look out into the eyes of the students that are still there and feel gratitude for their perseverance in the situation at hand rather than feel disappointed by those that have left.
One of the things you said in your post really hits home for a lot of us. I've heard many directors say this over the years - I'm so overwhelmed with feeling like I've wasted my life and I've not really made a difference in this place that I have purposefully stayed...
First of all, you have made a difference.. Think about all the students you've taught over 20 years! Take a moment to do the math! Thousands of students have been positively impacted by your work. As teachers, we'll never know the true extent of our impact because they don't come in the form of physical manifestations that we can use to remind us on a daily basis. Still, the impact is there. I often kept cards that my students wrote to me over the years in a folder called The Feel Good File which I would open when I was having a bad day. It reminded me that my work was valued.
Secondly, I think your statement reflects a larger issue in our profession (and perhaps outside our profession as part of the mere human condition) that many of us (myself included) suffer from which is the idea that our lives are somehow defined by the success of our programs. I know that's easy to say coming from me because I was fortunate enough to experience some wonderful events in the last few years. However, I still suffered from personally inflicted trauma. Bad rehearsals, tough years, and "quitters" regularly defined how I felt about my life and purpose. To help cope with this, my coworkers and I used to regular say to each other this acronym when we were having a bad day -
I. J. B.
It's just band.
(Shout out to my former student teacher, Kevin Thompson, who said this to me some 7 or 8 years ago.)
Now, here's a short story. One day, after a particularly tough rehearsal preparing for The Midwest Clinic in 2019, I came home and was ranting to my wife about the day. She stopped me and looked me dead in the eyes and said, "so your clarinets were out of tune today, huh? Well, I had two stroke cases and a heart attack patient today.". My wife is an ER nurse and that moment really brought me to a hault. I'm not telling you this story because I think you're feelings aren't valid. They are valid and it's OK to feel the way you do. However, this was a pivotal moment for me where I gained perspective from an outsider. Perhaps seek guidance from someone that's not in the profession. They may be able to bring you some perspective that can grant you some peace.
To your last question, do I have any suggestions on leadership? Honestly, I'm not sure. I can't truly understand what you're going through without seeing it, hearing it, and experiencing it in your shoes. For me personally, I've always taken the approach that leadership has started with me. Try your best to be the strongest leader you can and model how you want your students to behave. When things don't go well, take a deep breath and remind yourself IJB - It's just band! That always helped me take a moment to catch my breath and think before responding to frustrations.
Finally, one of my favorite ways of dealing with feeling overwhelmed is to compartmentalize my thoughts. If my feelings don't serve me positively in the moment, I box them up on a shelf that I can unpack later with a friend or mentor. (Don't hold on to them forever though!)
Jordan Peterson writes in one his books that in the time of crisis, we can't look too far into the future. He tells a story about how his daughter was suffering from a severe illness. Things got so bad that he couldn't think about what was going to happen in the next year. Would she live or not? He couldn't even think about the next few months. Instead, he shrunk his timeline down to the day-to-day. What do I need to do to get through this day?. And when the day is so tough you can barely get through it, you shrink it ever further and think about, what do I need to do to get through this hour or the next 30 minutes?. Sometimes life can feel overwhelming when you look at the big picture. When I was frustrated with work, I would shrink my timeline down to the class-by-class interval. I'd ask myself, what do I need to do to have a positive rehearsal this class? What do these students need from me right now that I can provide?
You are not alone. Your feelings are valid. Remember, you have made a difference and you are still making a difference. Take it one day at a time and find purpose in the day-to-day.
Best wishes for a happy year with those that you have already impacted so much.