Slice of Life #15: Emotional Labor: It’s a Thing.

It’s Thursday.

I come home, pull some leftovers out of the fridge, and plop down onto the couch.

It’s only 3:30, but I am exhausted. How can that be possible? I was only teaching!

Ah – there’s the rub.

Honestly, in my first year teaching, I used to think I was just weak, that maybe my exhaustion was my undisciplined college self responding negatively to a 9-to-5 job.

Now I know better: I’m tired not because of the physical labor I do throughout the day or due to my own laziness; I’m tired because of the emotional labor I engage in every second I’m in the school building.

I recently came across a post about emotional labor, and the descriptor that stuck out to me most was “always expected to be emotionally and mentally available”.

This is exactly how I feel after a day of teaching, even if it’s a “good day.”

Teaching is an emotionally and mentally draining job. Delivering nuanced content, managing classroom culture and behaviors, being kind and supportive to over 100 individuals; that’s a lot.

And some days, being able to reflect on all I accomplish in one day can make me feel invincible. Exhausted in a satisfied, sated way. But also, always, still… tired.

Maybe I’m only complaining because I’m an introvert? Because sometimes I feel I get annoyed by too much talking and distractions, and it just compounds as the day goes on.

Example:

I teach 6th grade, and while, logically, I know self-control is literally not developed in my students’ growing brains yet, I get so tired of reminding them what active listening should look like.

By 6th period, my last class of the day, I’m short tempered, and usually lower on emotional support, too. My “wait time”, allowing students to check themselves and their classmates on distracting behaviors before I begin my screeching, is replaced by “iPad! On my desk! Bring it up!”

This is especially true for days like today: Read Aloud days. No downtime to slip into a book for 5 minutes and calm my mind before checking in on students. No moment alone at my desk to take attendance. Just leading a class for 42 minutes, with short bursts of turn-and talks and notebook page exemplar creation. And lots of large group conversation to manage.

On these days, I lose my place in the read aloud book more easily with 6th period. And I find my place less quickly. The students get less fluent narration from me, and I feel bad. (Luckily they do get better lessons, being my 5th time teaching the same thing each day.)

But I also get more frustrated with them. I have given them ALL my standard mini-lectures: “you know what you should be doing, why aren’t you doing it” and “I’m not a wicked witch who makes you get off your iPad for no reason” , “I’m a human too and you gotta treat me like one when I’m talking to you” and “can’t you please just remind each other what you should be doing so I don’t have to stop the class for this shit?”: First through third periods hardly ever get those.

As I open up my “tech abuse” spreadsheet, I notice it’s filled with 5th and 6th period names – not a single morning student to be found.

Another argument for this could be class sizes, of course: these are 28 and 26 students large, and I have one of the smallest rooms in the school. When you can’t move chatty kids away from each other, there are issues.

But I think it mostly comes from my depleting emotional labor reserves. Finally having a specific term to describe this feeling, EMOTIONAL LABOR, has made me feel validated.

Seen.

But now I’m wondering: do other teachers feel this way, too? I’m especially interested by you extroverts out there. In any case, feel free to commiserate in comments 🙂

16 thoughts on “Slice of Life #15: Emotional Labor: It’s a Thing.

  1. Your post resonates with me. The “emotional labor” tag is so appropriate. I’m a school Principal and mom of 2 and find that by 9 PM, I’m DONE! I’m getting into bed earlier and earlier – not able to make ONE MORE DECISION. Thanks for naming this for us. You aren’t alone.

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  2. Yes, I used to feel emotionally exhausted after a day of teaching and coaching! In my first years of teaching, I found that after school, I could either take a nap or go for a run — either one would clear my mind. When I told my parents about how stressful I found teaching, my father thought that I was having a hard time because it was my first full-time job out of college. That is, he felt that way until he retired from his engineering profession and became a science teacher. Then, he realized how draining teaching can be, at least in those initial years. Good luck! I do think it becomes easier as the years go on.

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    1. Thank you for sharing that story about your father- I’m sure my parents thought the same thing about me. And it’s so funny that he got to see for himself how teaching really is! Hope you’re having a restful weekend 🙂

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  3. Thank you for sharing! As a fellow introvert this really hit home. I am often exhausted by the end of each day and I often need to shut myself off and be alone to decompress. I’m trying to show patience to all my classes but some periods and some days that’s easier said than done.

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  4. Fellow introvert here, and yes, being “on” all day–and especially being on in the ways that teaching demands (calm, patient, caring, kind)–can be exhausting! As I was reading your post, I was remembering my own 7th and 8th period classes, and how they always seemed to be hardest. It makes sense that our students would also be depleted by the end of the day!

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  5. Another fellow introvert, who appreciates your thoughtful exploration. And I am just now home from a tough time with my last period class- who I always have a tough time with. I get tired of my own spiels, too.
    Your questioning reminds me of a very gifted geometry teacher at my own childrens’ middle school. He was an awful teacher if you had him last period. I would hate to tell him that, but I believe my 3 kids (who each had him.). Sad but true. What to do?
    Your specifics were great here- losing your place more often and taking longer to find it, such a simple example and so true. I think we just have to keep our temper and sense of humor, remember that last period does get the most developed and refined version of the lesson, like you say, and then go home and do what you need for yourself. Don’t feel guilty, don’t burn out. Do always keep trying 🙂
    (Can you tell your post resonated with me!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I can tell! I wonder if it is an introvert-specific phenomenon. Hmm…
      Slicing has been a nice way to reframe the day in my head, and focus on the GOOD things I exhausted myself with. Easy to lost track of them some days.
      I hope you’re having a restful weekend!!

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  6. So draining. Day in and day out big and little decisions about curriculum, scaffolding, behavior all happening simultaneously. Definitely hard on the patience.

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  7. I haven’t heard that term before, but I believe it. Whenever I have had to deal with a lot of emotional stuff at work, I come home completely drained. I wonder what the cure is?

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    1. Hmm… I wonder. For me, watching an uplifting reality show – like, where real humans are kind to each other – really helps me de-stress. I love the Great British Baking Show and Queer Eye for this!

      Liked by 1 person

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