My Health or My Careers: How Do I Choose? Why Do I Have To?

This is a difficult post to write, but I’m up for because my voice must be heard. This issue pertains not only to me, but to any other teacher for whom what you’re about to read rings true.

I’m not comfortable sharing specific details, but I will say that recently life is happening to me in huge, overwhelming ways. The separation between my husband and me because of his incarceraion takes a huge toll on our marriage; we’ve had two deaths in my family, back to back; my 83 year-old dad isn’t feeling well at all; and my physical health is under attack, so much that I will soon have radiation therapy and surgery.

Not being in good health affects not only me, but my family, my teaching career, my writing career, and my students.

Yet I feel like I am not “allowed” to take care of myself or my family. Many of my colleagues resent that I have been absent a lot recently, yet they say nothing to me directly.  I don’t have the energy to write like I used to, so my blog posts have been fewer than usual, and just last week I had to cancel my weekly #SafeSpaceConvos Twitter chat to take care of my health. While I have gotten some support, it only came after I divulged more personal information than I cared to.

While I was told to take care of myself, I was just as quickly told that I needed to get back on track. Even after eight years of highly-effective teaching — by the NYC DOE’s own admission — my health and well-being are cast aside because the systems needs me to return to work — stat — whether I feel up to it or not.

As the primary provider for my home and the expected fulfiller of all the other roles I just mentioned, I can not afford to jeopardize my career. In turn, I am not allowed to take care of myself without repercussions that would be possibly damaging to me and my family beyond repair.  

So here I am writing. And here you are reading.  

Does any of this sound even vaguely familiar to any of you out there? How is it that a teacher is looked down upon for taking care of herself when a huge part of my role as a teacher is to take care of so many others?

Teaching is a profession whose workforce is predominantly women — yet this woman is scared to take days off or miss writing blog posts because — well, because society says that just isn’t allowed.

According to NYU Steinhardt,

From 2003-2004 to 2015-2016…[w]omen made up 74.6% of the City’s teacher workforce in 2003-2004, growing to 76.6% in 2015-2016. Over the same time, the proportion of men in the teaching workforce fell from 25.4% to 23.4%.

We women make up the majority of the teaching workforce and many times, with the rise of single parent households, are the sole/main providers for our families. That is my case. Why do I have to choose between my health or a roof over my head? Even with all my hard-earned degrees, tenure status, and excellent outcomes as a teacher and writer, who I am outside of that role and who I am as a woman are neither valued nor respected.

The Kaiser Foundation poignantly points out that

A public policy response that addresses women’s economic security and “balance” with health, family, and work issues has been elusive…Women have always been the primary caregivers for their family’s health needs, be it for their children, parents, or other family members….For these women, who must balance workplace and family health responsibilities with the fewest supports, the current system leaves them on shaky ground.

Do teachers really support one another? How do we show that support? Do you resent fellow teachers for taking care of themselves because you refuse to take care of yourself? How do we, as female teachers, take care of ourselves when so many people depend on us?

I’m trying to strike that ever elusive balance between career responsibilities and the responsibility I have to myself and my family. It seems that those two areas of my life are becoming mutually exclusive. That saddens me, but I will always choose me and I won’t feel badly for doing so. We talk about teacher self-care so much, but as a woman — I’ll even go a step further to say that as a Black woman — the always strong one who holds it together no matter what — no one really gives a damn if I take care of myself. Yes, women are natural caregivers but if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one else will.

I refuse to let that be how my story ends and I hope that, once again, by being open and transparent, others will be empowered to take care of and stand up for themselves. If you don’t, no one will. I watched my mother take care of everyone else beside herself just to die before she ever got to enjoy her life, her adult children, or her grandchildren.

That won’t be me.

Know that that experience of losing my mother at the tender age of 21 while pregnant with my son has greatly affected me and my decision to take care of myself — unregrettably and unapologetically. I’ve seen too many teachers push themselves beyond their limits. That’s no good for them and it’s equally bad for their students.

As a writer, I only know how to write from the depths of my heart.  I could just write about mundane things going on in education, but I’ve never given my readers that and I’m not about to begin now. Forgive me for my hiatus. I needed some time to get myself together and I’m not all the way there, but I am finally comfortable sharing with you. This is from the depths of my heart and  I know that someone reading this needs to hear me.

What do you think?

One thought on “My Health or My Careers: How Do I Choose? Why Do I Have To?

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I too have been faced with making the decision to put my health first.I have been injured at work twice by a student and had surgery. Few teachers reached out to me while I was out, but that’s ok I survived. I found out that many who I thought were my friends are just co-workers. My safety and my health come first because I am human. We as teachers must realize that when we don’t take care of our health we are affecting our ability to live a long healthy life. Teaching has changed a lot there are more demands on us and I feel it’s time for me to move on. This is my 28 th year of teaching but because of my age I have to work 3 and half more years in order to collect my pension. Some of my former co- workers did not get to enjoy their retirement or collect their pension because they were sick or died right after they retired. I don’t want that to be my story so I will choose to take care of myself and take a break when I need to.

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