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“Mr. Fan, you’re a good teacher,” my student said. “But you gotta learn how to chill out.”
At the time, I didn’t think kindly of my student’s feedback. He was in my class and disrupting my classroom when he wasn’t supposed to be, and refusing my directions to go back to his class.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t right. I have a tendency to obsess and be a perfectionist, and I know that as an inner-city middle school teacher that teaches special ed, things aren’t going to go perfectly every day. In fact, I have to come in ready that they’re going to be far from it.
I knew my student was right because I was neglecting a lot of things in my life at the expense of work. I was going out less with friends, spending less time reading Scripture and taking time for myself, not running, spending less time with my girlfriend, and overall just not having too much of a life lately.
Yes, my job is important. Yes, I’m under a lot of stress all the time because of how important my job is. But tat doesn’t mean I can’t have a life, and it certainly doesn’t mean I can’t chill out.
“You doing too much” is a common phrase uttered by students against teachers, or even other students, when someone is dramatic. It is defined by Urban Dictionary as the “act of overachieving without any results or purpose.” If I had a dollar for every time a student tells me I’m “doing too much” for redirecting them to put their phones away, get into their seats, or to do their work, I would be a very rich man.
At the core, however, the kids are right. I’m working too hard. I’m not taking enough time for myself, and I’m trying to force academic achievement much more than I am letting it come naturally to my students. To chill out, I know I needed to spend more time for play and for my personal life and relationships.
I talked to some of my fellow teachers in the teachers’ lounge about how to manage stress and mental health in our clearly stressful jobs and environments. What my co-workers told me was this: once you leave the door, don’t bring any work home. The job can easily consume you. Don’t let it. Have a life and leave all the work at the school.
And so I did that. I stopped bringing worksheets and papers home to grade, and stopped talking about work as much when I was out with my friends. Yes, I still tell outrageous and funny stories about work, but I focus a lot less on work because being a teacher, and being a teacher in Baltimore City, is so consuming already when I’m, well, at the school.
I also make sure to prioritize sleep and take time for myself. I haven’t been running 85 miles per week like I did in college, but I’ve been doing more and doing better, and doing much better to keep myself accountable. I’ve been watching more TV I’ve been meaning to catch up on when I’ve been home, catching up on HBO masterpieces like “Chernobyl”, “The Corner”, and “The Deuce”. I’ve been sleeping at least seven hours a night out of sheer necessity. Sometimes, once I’m in bed, I pass out immediately because of the challenges and rigors of the day.
Since I’m bad at keeping in touch with friends I don’t see every day, I have made a conscientious effort since my crusade to chill out to reach out. I’ve made phone calls on long drives and commutes, and although I can’t keep in touch with everyone, the friends I do keep in touch with are ones I’ve had meaningful and thoughtful discussions with. You never stop catching up, because you’ll always miss part of the life you left behind.
I’ve committed to obligations outside of work, like keeping up with my Scripture reading, or putting in volunteer hours with the Crisis Text Line, and keeping up with service at my church. No matter what happens, no matter what goes wrong, I will always put God first, and chilling out has helped me put that priority in perspective.
Chilling out is about balance, something I’ve never done quite a great job at. But I’m getting better, and feeling a lot more relaxed now that I’ve prioritized rest and prioritized myself. Paradoxically, I’ve found that I’ve connected more with my students, that they’ve been learning more, and that we’re getting a lot more done. Above all, relationships are stronger than they’ve ever been, even with some of my most challenging students.
So take some time to reflect for yourself on ways you can chill out, and make chilling out a priority this new year. Your work and your life will thank you for it.
This post was previously published on medium.com and is republished here with permission from the author .
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