The Spirits That Visit Me In The Night Are The Reminders Of Work Undone, The Lists Of Tasks Yet To Be Completed, And The Host Of Possibilities Of Things I Could Accomplish If Only I Were Less Human

December 1, 2010

By surviving passages of doubt and depression on the vocational journey, I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch. • Parker Palmer (2000), Let Your Life Speak

I’m currently teaching a course called Human(e) Relations, the “e” added by me as a reminder to all of us that in our dealings with others, it is important to be humane because we are all human and thus fallible and likely to disappoint even as we also deliver joy and delight. It is inevitable that few of us will be as practically perfect as Mary Poppins claimed to be.

It is three o’clock in the morning and I cannot sleep. Too many things that need my attention are lined up, waiting their turn. They are patient, but they do not go away. They wait. And I feel their weight. I close my eyes and hope that sleep will take me away for a few more hours, but soon I stare into the darkness, knowing that it will not, and I succumb to temptation, turn on the light, pick up my pen, and write my way into the day.

It’s the end of a quarter. Next week is finals week. Assessment tasks loom as does the necessity of preparing for a new quarter even as I finish with this one. My lists have lists and all my good intentions mock me, a chorus of inky voices reminding me of the undone, half-completed, unfinished realities of my life. No matter how much I do accomplish, it is never enough.

The life of an educator embodies the realities of “never enough.” No matter how much we do or how much we give of ourselves, it is never enough. There is always more that we could, should, truly believe we ought to do to enhance our students’ learning experiences. There is further research to be done. There are new technologies to embrace and integrate. There are additional effective methodologies to employ and additional worthwhile activities to design. There are always always always more connections to be made—real world and individual and interdisciplinary—that will help students engage with whatever it is that we are teaching. There is always more.

We do what we can.

We do more than we have energy for.

We plan to do better—and more—next time.

We hope.

As I watch the clock tick out the minutes before I must get ready for the morning’s work, I create a new list of things I hope to accomplish at quarter’s end: a book proposal to finish, articles to write, conference presentations to prepare, dusting and other mundane chores that get neglected because there is always something more interesting or pressing that I need to do, books to read, research to delve into, artmaking I’ve put off, cookies I’d like to bake just because I seldom do, friends I’d like to see, and I realize that although these things are all worthwhile and some of them are even likely to be relaxing, there is no place on my list to simply stop my headlong rush into life and relax.

I must relax. I must renew. I must remember to reconnect with myself and revive my spirit if I am to continue the work that is my vocation. So must we all.

Regardless of how or whether you celebrate any holiday at this time of the year, I hope you’ll give your self the gift of time. Your life is your gift to the world and it deserves some loving care. You do not have to be an educator to need–or heed–this advice.

No one has time; we have to make time. • James Rohn

For the sake of making a living we forget to live. • Margaret Fuller



  1. There is never enough time in a day to do what needs to be done for our students, parents, paperwork…let alone ourselves. Figuring out the balance between both worlds, without feeling guilty for neglecting one (usually personal) has been a struggle.
    For me, ideas normally come in the middle of the night when all others are sleeping, yet I must wait until dawn until I can share it with others when they rise for their day. As long as I continue to working with at risk students, I will continue to have many sleepless nights. BUT, when I reflect, I do realize that the sleepless nights are worth it, eventually!
    When I do arrange some “me” time…I am in heaven!!!

  2. Oh, KJ,
    Me time is heaven for me too and I don’t want to wait to get it in heaven! It was a delight to see you and now hear from you too.

  3. It is finals weeks at the high school next week as well. Students observe two 75 minutes periods a day for three days of finals in each of their classes. Good practice for college. I am so relieved that Christmas break is almost here. I need to recharge. I am struggling with teaching after coming to realize that I can’t trust my students. They cheat on exams and homework, they steal stuff and try to pass it off as their own, and they say horrible things about me. It is easier to not trust or like them than suffer disappointment. I was just in the principals office yesterday with a student who swears he didn’t cheat on an exam. All this in the midst of a tough personal issue at home. I don’t mean to be a downer, only to share my feelings with a fellow teacher.

    • I am so sad to hear this and I’m hoping that you have found someone at school you can connect with so that you can share these frustrations. Often when these things are happening with one teacher, other teachers in the same building are experiencing similar challenges. I wish you some peace over the holiday break. W-OZ

  4. I’ve had trouble sleeping my entire life, and the way in which you described the “spirits” in our night truly resonated with me. I am a procrastinator. I hate to say it but its horribly true. This last year in the MAT program has caused me to be MUCH less of one, but the reality of my condition still exists. I constantly have this fear that I’m forgetting something huge, and I believe that the only thing that has saved me from being overcome by this constant nag, is my inherent belief that “Things will all turn out alright.”
    This attitude is not realistic, nor is it productive, but it keeps me believing that I not only have the capability to complete the necessary tasks for survival, but that the world is a generally benevolent place. I have a country song entitled “Roll With It” that I play every time I start feeling desperate. As silly as it sounds, it just makes me smile, and sometimes that’s all you need. This year has give n me a new definition of the term “stress” and I have a newfound respect for professionals around me, and even simply for those who work in general.
    This will be a terribly sad, and rambling confession, but in every job that I have had it just felt like I was punching the clock, and I kind of liked it. I felt a sense of anonymity, in which I could focus on my personal life and skate through any silly job I was holding. My first work sample Winter term created more sleepless nights and visiting “Spirits” than I have ever known. I completely abandoned my personal life and began having several anxiety attacks a day (I had never had one before that term). Despite the incredible amount of stress, this was the first time in my life when I had put everything I had into a job…and I have never been so proud in my life.
    I have grown so much in the last year, and it has been grueling and horrible, but it has also been enlightening and empowering.

  5. One of the things that saves me is my penchant for making lists, although I must admit that there are times–like now–when my lists have given birth to other lists and I have a file folder filled with lists. Many of them have some of the same things on them, but I am reassured just knowing that I’m not reliant on my brain to remember it all. I also love my hard copy calendar that allows me to flag important due dates with Post-Its® and see months at a glance. Teaching has definitely helped me develop strategies for taming the multi-headed beast of so-much-to-do-that-surely-it-is-impossible-yet-I-get-it-all-done! W-OZ

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