What can “weeds” teach us about teacher burnout?
I have a friend and neighbor (who is also a teacher…what a great combination!) who messaged me this week and said, “I think our clover is feeding all of your bees…it’s out of control!”
When I mentioned that to Jordan, he said he thought ours was coming back with a vengeance this year as well. Although it is a perfect source of nectar and pollen for our bees (and lots of other critters), clover is often seen as a nuisance or a less than perfect plant that comes and infiltrates perfectly manicured lawns. In some cases It’s dug up, mowed over, and cursed throughout the summer months. Like it’s spring time equivalent, the dandelion, it is seen as just a pesky weed with no real redeeming qualities.
But here were my neighbor and my husband talking about how this year’s clover is really flourishing even though it is always trying to be eradicated.
So what can we as teachers learn about this weed that continues to persevere in spite of (or because of?) the adversity that surrounds it?
One thing we can learn is that sometimes the things (people, plants, animals) aren’t always appreciated for what they contribute or what they bring to the ecosystem.
Throughout the past few months, did you see how much people all over the country really started to think about the tireless (and inspirational and necessary) work that teachers do each and every day?
Just like clover, so much of what we added to the ecosystem was not ever really fully appreciated.
Another thing we can learn from clover is how to have resilience and tenacity year after year without burning out. Remember, nature doesn’t make mistakes: our clover patches showed up even more prevalent than ever, there will be a reason for that even if we don’t know what it is yet.
Teacher burnout doesn’t need to be part of the natural cycle of a teacher’s life. Just like the clover comes back year after year, often better than ever.
Just like in our schools we are going to have to rally around our students and each other as we move into this year with “flexible resilience” (Thank you Amber Watson for that phrase!).
That doesn’t mean we need to be stomped on and abused and we keep coming back for more, surely leading to teacher burnout. Instead we know where we are needed, we enlist the support of our community (fellow colleagues, unions, administration, parents) and we do the job that needs to be done while still being able to do our job well.
You see, the clover that sprouts up year after year are the ones that stay healthy during the off season. They are the ones whose needs and conditions are met so that they can do the job they were “hired” to do.
Just like the clover is back for the bees, we can be back for the students, but this year also trying to prevent teacher burnout.
Just like the clover is back as a team in the yards all around our homes, we need to make our voices heard and our needs met as we move into this re-imagining of schools.
Just like the clover, our contribution to the school ecosystem must be acknowledged and understood in order to be appreciated.
It’s our job to first rest during this first part of summer, and then like the clover emerge with our tasks firmly known making sure that we get what we need while we are expected to perform our jobs under difficult circumstances.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” We are at a turning point in our school systems where our virtues are needed more than ever.
It is imperative that we get a place at the table for how we move forward because the initiatives don’t really have student best practices in mind if teachers aren’t able to fulfill the obligations.
So persevere like the clover field. Bounce back with flexible resilience. Get the people in power to notice the benefit to your own ecosystem and redefine the expectations of your job by coming together with other stake-holders.
This will help us prevent teacher burnout for when the true value and virtue of our job is recognized, every system will benefit and flourish.
If you’re looking for a way to begin building your own resilience, check out Teaching Well’s FREE Course: Teacher Self-Care Emergency Triage. This free course will give you an immediately implementable plan for self-care and then a multitude of ways to begin your own teacher self-care journey. h