This is for all the educators--retired or still in the business--a referral to this letter to a superintendent.
I really felt the need to retire (special education teacher at a middle school) when I realized that after 33 years the job was just not getting any easier with the help of experience. It just kept getting harder and more demanding--like any other job at the time--do more with less.
I don't know if all states have a wellness program for teachers. We do in Vermont and retirees are eligible to join in as well. It is a good program that provides information and incentives for healthier lifestyles. The thing is, it has only been since I retired that I could fully participate.
For one thing participation involves a bit of paperwork--just not something I could add to my plate while I was working. There is also a lot of emphasis on good nutrition--all stuff I knew anyway--but honestly, when I was dragging myself home in the dead dark of evening, the last thing I could possibly imagine was cooking.
Even the thought of deciding what to cook was sometimes beyond me.
Exercise? I left for work twenty minutes and a cup of coffee after getting up--around 6:15 A.M. if I was lucky, so I could beat the school bus traffic on my 15 mile drive. It was dark and I was too tired on the way home. I usually just drove right past the gym that gave us teachers a deal on a membership in cooperation with the wellness program. I felt better if I did stop and exercise but that didn't lead me to stop on a regular basis.
A walk at lunch time? Um, on a twelve minute lunch break the choice stuff down a sandwich OR take advantage of the one bathroom opportunity. Hunger or a urinary tract infection. With one possible bathroom break in the course of six hours, guess which option usually won out.
This year, the program emphasis is on getting adequate sleep. Stress reduction is always a feature of the program. Had I been able to fall asleep when my head hit the pillow and sleep through an entire night--even just one or two nights a week the last five or six years I was teaching--I might have made it to full retirement age. I have always needed my sleep so being sleep deprived hits me like a ton of bricks. My sleep was so out of whack, I ended up having to do the whole sleep study in the hospital and then going for "sleep therapy" for a couple of months a whole year after I retired.
I am not a particularly stupid person. I knew that exercise and adequate sleep are important to health and wellness. I knew all about healthy food choices and that processed foods and fast foods were not the way to go. I knew stress could be a killer. And, I knew that "not having the time" is a major cop out excuse.
Knowing all that, I still did not muster the psychic energy to fully deal with the stress and so it just kept mounting.
Fortunately for me, I was in a position to choose an early retirement. I at least had enough awareness to realize I could live with less money, but I could not live with any more stress.
Don't get me wrong. I applaud Vermont's efforts to support and promote wellness. The benefits are not just for individuals either. School systems would benefit from decreased insurance payouts and fewer sick day costs. I'm just saying school systems and their communities have to support a culture of wellness across the board. And that includes appreciating and nurturing individual talents and learning/teaching styles. That includes opportunities for physical activity and creative activity and plain old down time. From my reading of the letter to a superintendent, I wonder. How much does it happen?