Well, it has been a few weeks. I haven't written but I have been thinking about all of you-all of the teachers who are out there waiting to have their voices heard. We certainly have a lot to say. I am not quite sure how to wrap my head around all the topics I want to talk about with you. I want to talk about children, early childhood policy, collaboration, frustrations, celebrations, and funny stories. I want to capture the amazing things that happen in the classroom that make all of the time we spend thinking, planning, facilitating, and reflecting so we can finally say, 'All this was worth it. Look at what is happening before my eyes. Because of me, my understanding of children, my passion for education, this (insert amazing story here) happened." But what I really want to say, is that giving everything to your job isn't enough. And in order to justify that comment, I need to share with you a little but about me and some of my story.
Since I last wrote to you, I have been journaling, enjoying walks and talks with friends, and adding onto my vision board. I celebrated my 6 year anniversary with my amazing husband and partner and I feel so full of love I could burst. I am rejoicing my newfound health in life: spiritual, emotional, and physical. I feel like I am radiating with positivity. I tell you this because nine months ago, at any moment, I would burst into tears. My days were spent in self doubt, wondering 'why me?' and 'why can't I get this right?' My relationships suffered. My work suffered. And I knew it but I felt stuck and didn't know what to do.
Nine months ago, I had emptied my proverbial cup. There wasn't a half full/half empty outlook-there was no liquid at all. This feels awful to say because outwardly, I did already have so much. I had a caring husband, a beautiful house, wonderful friends, and a job that allowed me to work with the most dedicated, thoughtful, and some of the most intentional teachers I have had the opportunity to know. But I was also considerably overweight and unhealthy, self-loathing, feeling not good enough, and resentful. The frustration was related to a few things: All I had ever wanted-I had. What I worked for, I earned and received. But I wasn't happy. And that didn't make sense. Deep down, I knew I wasn't being the best version of myself and that my weight was an excuse for why I couldn't feel beautiful, loved, or moving forward. I had all of these ideas and understandings about what should happen in early childhood and felt confined by my current role as a classroom teacher. 'Where is our voice?' I kept thinking to myself. 'Who is going to help teachers do what we do so that children can learn with the best possible education?' My boss, my leader, my advocate, and confidant had to leave the workplace. Her absence created a void so big in our hearts you could fit the titanic inside. Needless to say, work (aka my home away from home) wasn't the same. And to top it all off, the previous year of trying for a child and not being successful, left me filled with such emptiness I still don't have words to describe it. My cup was empty. And I was angry because I followed all of the rules! You know the rules and life expectations that people tell you about: go to college, get a good job, find and marry a great love, buy a house, be a good person. I checked all those off but a child for myself? Not in the cards. I felt like I let everyone down: my family, my husband, and myself.
I felt less than a person. I didn't feel whole. I ate some more, watched more TV, literally isolated myself. Each day I put on a smile, and I literally had "my act together". You know that saying, "She has her act together." And it is supposed to be a compliment, a fulfilling statement and testament to all the work you had done. But that is all it was-an act. I went to work, tried to get through work, and tried to leave my emotional baggage at the door but it wasn't working. And then one day, I looked at some pictures of myself from a friends wedding. I really looked at myself. The first thoughts were ones we all have, 'Is that what I look like? How did I get here?' and other miscellaneous unkind things. The more I looked at myself the more I thought, 'This isn't the real me. This is not me. I reject this person. I am more than this story. I have more to do, more to say, and I need to get myself healthy in order to do it.' And so that is what I have been doing.
Am I being honest enough for you? I don't ever tell my stories for others to feel badly because the stories are part of who I am and what I have to share with you. My experience has been that blunt honestly leaves many people uncomfortable. But maybe you need to read my story, and get a little uncomfortable to go look at yourself for minute. Are you happy? Are you fulfilled? My experience has also been that being an intentional teacher does not always equate to a happy and fulfilled person.
Have you ever looked at yourself long enough to be honest with the you staring back? Have you found yourself following a set of expectations that have been created (by many people and culture impositions) and found yourself alone at the end of them, unfulfilled and wondered, 'How did I get here!?' Do you have this ache in your soul that is telling you that there is something special inside of you still waiting to come out? Are you fatigued? Have you over-served others and forgotten that in caring for everyone else, you forgot the most important person- you?
I had spent so much of my time trying to make everyone else happy that I forgot what it is in life that made me happy. I am so done feeling sorry for myself, making excuses, and literally and figuratively not looking at myself in the mirror. I can honestly say that my outside is now beginning to match my inside. The more I took time to better myself, the better wife, daughter, friend, colleague and teacher I became too. I'm not done yet, but I am getting there. I don't write to you pretending this is an easy task either because this has been the hardest turn around of my life! Months of honesty, sweat, tears, but now I am ready to be the me inside that has always been there, patiently waiting for me to hydrate my soul, fill up my cup, and rejuvenate my life. The me that was waiting to talk to all of you.
Which leads me to my point: In order to be an intentional teacher, you have to be intentional about taking care of yourself. You will not be able to serve others to the level of your expectations, if you haven't figured out who you are and created balance in your life. Be radically honest with yourself. In finding the better you, you will become a better educator.
When I sit to think about what it means to advocate for teachers (and I believe that by advocating for teachers, I am advocating for children too), I keep thinking about the radical self care I have been diving into the past nine months. How taking the time to take care of me, making myself a priority and investing my thoughts and energy into me has radically changed my relationship to everything and everybody. It has changed my relationship with my teaching but also to myself, my marriage, my family and friends, and now to you. I am able to see so clearly now how much we crave to serve others as I crave to serve you. We spend thousands of moments in our day thinking about our classroom, our colleagues, our goals, and dreams. Yet, as we keep pouring our souls into our work to serve others, we don't take the time to look in the mirror and see who we are, and give ourselves time to check in.
I know I don't speak for everyone but I know I speak for many out there who have been giving everything they have without giving back to themselves. Know that I love you, I believe in your greatness, in your health, and happiness. And I am here.
If you are looking for a starting point and need a little boost, please check out these links. They have been inspirational to me in my journey. Lisa Nichols: Get Radical and Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability. Thank you for reading and being part of my journey.
Brittany Courchesne is an early childhood educator, teacher mentor to teachers in training, public speaker, and blogger.