Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stupid Education Policy Stresses Me Out

Yesterday I went to the neurologist after two long weeks of visits to different doctors. I had an EKG, an EEG, some inner-ear/balance test, blood tests, an echocardiogram, that thing where they put stickers on your chest and make you run on the treadmill, and an MRI. All of this to determine what was causing my adrenaline rushes, chest pains, headaches, and vertigo. The MRI found a larger than average cyst on my Pineal gland, which, if you didn't know, is pretty much right in the center of your brain. But the neurologist, who was pretty much my last stop in my tour of Upper East Side specialists, told me confidently that my symptoms had nothing to do with anything but stress.

"Are you sure? I don't feel stressed out? Isn't there some surgery you could do and make this all go away?"

"Nope," he said. "What you need is a vacation and a girlfriend."

Great.

I guess I wasn't being totally honest. I do feel a little stressed out, but not stressed out to the degree that I would expect to be having such serious physical conditions (the kind that are beginning to seriously interfere with my life). But I've always been at least a little stressed. Who doesn't have some stress? Yes - I try to do too much, but that's been the case for the last ten years of my life, and I've never had these symptoms before.

If this is stress, it makes me wonder what's going on in my subconscious. As I was leaving the neurologist yesterday, I began laughing, a little at first, and within about a minute, I was cracking up. An overwhelming sense of joy came over me. In the moment, I couldn't explain it. Why the hell am I laughing? And then it hit me: this must be a manifestation of the relief I'm feeling after finding out that I'm not due for an aneurysm (which I seriously, in the middle of some crazy anxiety attack I had a week ago, thought I might have). And if I wasn't cognizant of how relieved I was when the doctor told me all of this was just stress, and I've been equally as unaware of the amount of stress I'm apparently under, I'm starting wonder what the hell is going on in my head that I don't know about.

WHO AM I?

The symptoms I have seem to increase as the week goes on, and taper off over the weekend. When they started, I attributed it to lack of sleep during the week, which I suppose is still probably a factor. But I'm beginning to wonder how much stress I actually accrue at work, and where that stress comes from.

I'm quite sure the stress does not come from the act of teaching. Teaching is usually the time of the day I enjoy most. I'm not one of those teachers who dreads going to school for fear of the kids or the administration. I work with competent administrators, and I don't think I have any kids this year who I'd call malicious, which is about the only kind of student that gets under my skin.

So what's the problem?

I think I think too much. My AP has told me at least a few times that the system is only messed up if you think about it. If you just do what you're supposed to do, and live in the moment, this job is a whole lot easier. But if you devote your time to thinking about it and analyzing the stuff that goes on not only in the New York City Department of Education, but nationwide, it can really rack your brain.

Just this morning, my principal informed me that there will be no more Regents exams in January in New York State and that up to forty percent of a teacher's evaluation will soon be made up of student test scores.

Just three questions: Will this apply for high school students taking Regents tests? Does anyone except for teachers know that teachers grade their own students' Regents tests? And lastly, and most importantly, doesn't anyone else understand how stupid this is?

I better stop writing. I think I'm about to have aneurysm.

10 comments:

  1. I will certainly be pondering your AP's comments. Still, I'm going to the PEP tonight. If you ignore the insanity, as many do, while millions watch Fox News and read the Post, it seems to multiply.

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  2. Is the cyst on your pineal gland serious? It doesn't sound like it from your post, which is good. Regarding stress, I certainly had physical symptoms of stress at my worst teaching position (with a really nasty principal and out of control students). It interfered with my sleep (I woke up in the middle of the night, stressed and panicked) and my appetite (I didn't have any). Like you, these symptoms abated on weekends and holidays. Good luck in landing a much LESS stressful position out in Seattle next year!

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  3. This is how my current job is at DCPS; I sleep, eat, and exercise rarely since taking this job. I also feel that we are passing on our IMPACT (Value-added stress) on to the students, they are really really crazy right now.

    Look after yourself though, stress is the silent killer. After releasing all those stress toxins they play can havoc with your body, attacking you when you least expect it, often when you are rested and not feeling stressed but the damage has already been done to your heart and nervous system.

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  4. Anonymous @ 6:24pm: You're not alone in experiencing these stress symptoms. I'm sure that the emphasis on testing these recent years isn't helping teachers' stress levels. Whatever your job, it's definitely important to find time to relax, exercise, and get enough sleep. If that's not possible at a particular job, maybe it's time to consider moving on to a new one (that's what I did).

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  5. Read this blog Failing Schools, and the article "Criminalizing Teachers"; they ask, "how did we get here?" I really wonder how any teachers still have their sanity in this climate. http://failingschools.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/criminalizing-teachers/

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  6. I had the same symptoms as above -- waking up every hour, waking up even earlier than the 5:20 alarm and not being able to go back to sleep. Able to turn off appetite by thinking about...anything. (Lost 10 pounds first 3 months of first year teaching, but lost the same 10 pounds in 3 weeks the second year.) Unable to relax -- even if I had time, say, to take a nap, I wouldn't be able to relax enough to go to sleep. Skin felt like it was crawling all the time. Attention span starting to dwindle.

    Then I quit. First year was hard, but doable, great fellow teachers, demanding but competent and clear administration. Second year was with a new first year principal (specially trained in district) -- and now we had to follow every script to the minute, "just keep things in their hands" was her answer to classroom management (and the only piece of advice I ever got).

    Turns out those stress reactions can turn themselves off in about 24 hours!

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  7. The stupid education policy stresses me out, too! I kind of agree with your AP. If you don't think about it, you don't feel quite as insanely frustrated and out of control. But it's almost impossible not to think about it at least a couple times a week. When I started this year, I thought about it everyday and it made teaching so much harder, in addition to being a first year teacher. It's been a very "control the things you can" outlook lately.

    I hope you feel better soon (take that vacation)! And that they come up with a better eval system . . . someday.

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  8. After a minor health scare in January, I vowed to get all the check ups I'd been skipping. For a long time. After the last and scariest (looking for something bad that runs in my family) when the doctor told me "clean" I felt ok, and then absolutely euphoric. I had not realized how worried I had been...

    Jonathan

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  9. Your doctor's right. What you need is a vacation and a girlfriend.

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  10. Possibly my favorite post of yours. This job is hard. And it's amazing.

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