The struggle is real

I’m perhaps starting to realize just how much of my “knowledge” for teaching lives not in my mind as things I can access, but as contingent ways of responding to stimuli that I’ve built over time. You might think that as an education researcher, I’d be more able to describe it. … and While I might be able to describe teaching knowledge in some generic way, I think that most of my own personal teaching knowledge is encoded so differently as to not be communicable by me.

This has become apparent to me in many ways, but one way I know is that I’ve gotten worse at doing model lessons. Its gotten very hard for me to teach a lesson to a different audience or to even describe lesson plans in a way that is accurate to what I actually do. 

It’s almost feels like asking me to waltz to a song in 4/4.. or It’s like knowing how to dial a number with your fingers but not knowing how to say it. For the act of dialing is the knowledge, rather than the dialing being an outcome of knowledge. 

For this reason, I am finding it more and more impossible to share my teaching with others. My honest best attempts are not just incomplete, but I think even inaccurate. 

Is this because of improv? Like if you ask an improv group what their skits are going to be, they can say something about it, but whatever they say about it, it will neither be what happens nor will it represent the knowledge that allowed that improv to unfold. If you press the actor to say even more specifically what he might say or do, he may not be able to say, but more likely what he says at that moment will not be at all true to what would actually transpire.

That’s how I feel. When pressed to say something too specific, I may say something, but I’m not sure what that something means anymore beyond me responding to the stimuli immediately in front of me. Feeling like what I’m about to say will just not be true makes me hesitant to say anything at all. 

Does anybody else feel that way?

Once more unto the breach 

I’m starting to face the reality of how much emotional labor goes into teaching, and how unhealthy it can be to labor over an extended period of time without much of a reservoir to draw from. 
It hit me recently when was I reading an article in the Atlantic about anxiety and burnout in activism communities, and it really resonated with me about my own teaching:
“Excessive worry can lead to fatigue, lack of concentration, and muscle tightness,” Woodruff says. If that stress and worry becomes chronic, Lertzman adds, “people get overwhelmed. They burn out and short-circuit and turn their backs on the very issues that they care most deeply about.”

Activists pour a lot of emotional labor into their work, Chen says, which “heightens the risk of discouragement and despair when their work becomes too overwhelming.” Sometimes, for their health, people find it necessary to step away from activism altogether.

The symptoms of burnout include depression, anxiety, headaches and other physical ailments, substance abuse, loss of productivity, and trouble concentrating.”

There’s a part of me that thinks maybe I just need a sabbatical, but there’s also a part of me that thinks that (more fundamentally) I am prone to orienting toward teaching in ways that are just not sustainable. It’s something I will need to seriously commit to working on if I’m going to make it beyond another year or two.

I imagine this is a pretty common feeling for teachers at one point or another, especially for those who aim to teach in ways that are responsive and attentive to students. 

And I also imagine it is not uncommon to feel this way after getting tenure. It’s like you were probably already burned out, but now you can face it honestly.

Finally,  I think daycare has also helped me to have new perspectives on my own teaching that pertain to issues of emotional labor and emotional well being. 

Blog at

Up ↑