How Much Can You Care?

Education is a caring profession. Educators I know chose it because they care about others, and especially about kids. If we only go into teaching because we are fascinated by the subject, then burn out happens. It’s great to be inspired by the content of what you’re teaching; we also have to be inspired by our students.

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I’ve seen educators go above and beyond hundreds of times. I know educators who cry for their students after the day is over and who wonder what else they can do to reach that child whose life is difficult and whose behaviour is so challenging. I’ve had conversations where educators fight against their own biases to understand the perspectives of students who may not be like them. I truly believe that this is the work of education. We have to care or our jobs become meaningless.

And yet, how to care without depleting our compassion banks? How to care without running out of the energy to care for ourselves and our families? In the past few years, we have come to understand that compassion fatigue is real and can affect educators in extreme cases.

The lesson for me is that we need to care for ourselves in order to keep caring for others. As I’ve written before in this space, I am an introvert. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about people; it means that not enough time alone can lead to lack of energy or feeling overwhelmed. When I feel depleted, it’s time to retreat a little from the world and spend some time doing things I love. It might mean that I clear my personal or work calendar for a couple of days. It might be spending time with someone in a quiet space with few expectations so I can recharge. I find that if I don’t, things can get worse and I lose empathy and patience.

Sometimes caring for ourselves means seeking out help with a professional who can act as a sounding board and counsellor. This is nothing to be ashamed of. I know how helpful this can be from personal experience, and I applaud those with the courage to take that first step.

What about you? When you feel that you don’t have more to give, what do you do?

6 comments on “How Much Can You Care?

  1. Michelle Johnson says:

    Sue thank you for sharing. You are so brave for opening up about your personal experiences. You have asked what I do…well, I bake! I also like to sit quietly and organize my calendar so I feel more in control of the days ahead.

  2. adunsige says:

    What an important post, Sue! For me, caring about myself often means giving myself time with a good book and/or a good friend. It means taking the time to go out for dinner or coffee, even if I have a lot of other things on my schedule. I need it. And sometimes, based on the same problems you mentioned in this post, it means knowing when I need to make a professional change for my own mental health and well-being as well as for kids. We all have our limits, and if we’re feeling dysregulated, this often impacts on our kids. Your post reminds me of this very important point that Stuart Shanker has written about often. Thanks for the reminder!


  3. When I first started teaching, I was overwhelmed with the many needs of the students in my kindergarten classes. Many required basic things like clean clothes appropriate for the weather, food, boots, shoes, and so on. One family in particular really created a learning situation for me in my first year teaching for our board. Mom was a young single mom with three children, the youngest in my class,. I noticed *Daisy was coming to school in the same clothes every day and she hadn’t bathed or combed her hair. I reached out to mom. Turns out she had been in remission but her breast cancer was back. She wasn’t able to work and had fallen behind on her rent so her landlord evicted her and locked her out of her home. They literally had the clothes on their backs and were sleeping on the floor at a friend’s home. I knew that this was too big for me to handle on my own so I reached out. I found out that our school had a public health nurse who came in once a week and also connected with the school social worker, who came once every two weeks. They knew all the agencies to contact and in no time had housing, furniture, clothing and more for the family. Mom passed away later that year, and the school and the community continued to support the family. It was an important lesson for me – to reach out and find the people who have the expertise to help me help our families.

    • Sue Dunlop says:

      Thank you so much for sharing Daisy’s story and, by extension, your own as a teacher. What you describe is so much part of every educator’s experience and emotions that we carry with us every day. So glad you were able to find that support for the family and for yourself – that is what we all need.

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