I am exhausted. I haven’t felt like this for a while.
Some may call it burnout. They may be right. I have spread myself thin lately, adding two large and highly stressful projects to my already busy life.
Some may call me crazy (by some I mean my husband!).
Some may say I need to say ‘no’.
Some may say that’s teaching these days, what do you expect?
I always say… “I don’t have a hobby, teaching is my hobby. I mean that is where my joy is, my passion. It’s what I love to do.” And herein lies the problem.
This is not the first time teacher exhaustion has hit me square in the face and it won’t be the last. I was having a conversation with a beginning teacher earlier in the year, she said, “I am just not sure how this workload is sustainable. Tell me it’s sustainable.” I felt torn in my response. I was thinking the same thing just the week before and I have been teaching for more then half of this teacher’s life. I mean I should have my shit together by now. “Of course it is,” I say. “Once you have taught it once it is easier, and you learn to manage blah, blah, blah….” I lied. I lied because I know she is and will continue to be a great teacher. I lied because I didn’t have the heart to tell her it takes over your life. Teaching is not a profession, it is a vocation and we do it because the reward far outweighs the workload.
Now to the terrariums. My daughter loves nature. Making a terrarium is something we have been talking about for awhile, but I had been putting it off because of this pile of marking, that set of reports and the endless meaningless tasks that I was drowning in. However, three weeks ago I realised I was wilting. I needed nourishment and I needed it immediately. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and we set upon our task. We googled ‘How to make a terrarium and keep it alive’. We got our answer, made a list of supplies and headed off to Bunnings. With enough materials to landscape half an acre, we headed to the nursery to pick our plants.
“Succulents”, I declared and as I picked up the first little guy I realised he was just like me.
Teachers are succulents. We have thick skin, adapt to storing water, and survive in arid climates. Teachers acclimatise over the years to survive the harsh working conditions of teaching. The time we can go without nourishment increases as we become more resilient and our skin thickens. We learn to store the moments of joy that keep us going, drawing on them when we need it. However, even the toughest of plants need a reprieve. They need the rain to ease the pressure, to take off the stress, even if it is just for a day.
“Mum, can we get all of these?”
“Yep. All of them.”
We filled our basket high with succulents and came home to begin creating. I filled a goldfish bowl, a few jars and sixteen large tumblers for my sixteen year 12’s sitting their HSC practical exam the week after. My daughter made six others of various shapes and sizes. “You just need to use your imaginary feelings when you make them mum”, she said. I was nourished. It didn’t take much, just an intermission from the harsh climate. Just for a day.
Three weeks later and I am feeling better. My year 12’s have sat their practical exams and I have completed one of the large extra-projects I had weighing on my shoulders. I still have the pile of marking to do and reports around the corner, but I am also making time for my new hobby.
I made a teacher terrarium today. It will live in my classroom. A mini world reminding me to nourish myself, to step outside and soak in the sun, to refuel my joy as regularly as possible. I used my ‘imaginary feelings’ to build it into a joy-fueled classroom. A rainbow to acknowledge the diversity of my students. A chalkboard for inspiring collaboration. A glass container acknowledging that my class is always open and welcoming of other teachers. A string of work acknowledging critical thinking and creativity. And a reminder that children grow into the intellectual life around them.
What would your teacher terrarium look like?
How To Make a Terrarium
- Find a container of any description! K-Mart is great for cheap fish bowls or glass vases like the one I have used above. Alternatively raid the op-shop for old teacups, bowls or other interesting pieces.
- Begin your terrarium with a layer of pebbles or stones to assist in storing water.
- Add a layer of horticultural charcoal (available from Bunnings).
- Place a layer of soil, deep enough to cover the roots of your plant. You can get succulent specific potting mix from Bunnings.
- Plant your succulent.
- Decorate it using pebbles, stones, sand, moss and your ‘imaginary feelings’.
- Give it a drink of water and you are done. Depending on the size it may only need watering once a fortnight. Maybe when you water your terrarium it can be a conscious reminder that it is time to nourish yourself!